(navigation image)
Home American Libraries | Canadian Libraries | Universal Library | Community Texts | Project Gutenberg | Children's Library | Biodiversity Heritage Library | Additional Collections
Search: Advanced Search
Anonymous User (login or join us)
Upload
See other formats

Full text of "The Harvard Classics Volume 34"



\ 




i 

2 <5 
1 t 
I I 







THE HARVARD CLASSICS 

EDITED BY CHARLES W ELIOT LL D 



FRENCH AND ENGLISH 
PHILOSOPHERS 

DESCARTES ROUSSEAU 
. VOLTAIRE HOBBES - 

WITH INTRODUCTIONS, NOTES 
AND ILLUSTRATIONS 




DR ELIOT S FIVE-FOOT SHELF OF BOOKS" 



P F COLLIER & SON 
NEW YORK 




Copyright 1910 
BY P. F. COLLIER & SON 



Copyright 1889 
BY PETER ECKLER 



21 




CONTENTS 

PACK 

DISCOURSE ON THE METHOD OF RIGHTLY CONDUCTING THE 
REASON AND SEEKING THE TRUTH IN THE SCIENCES 
BY RENE DESCARTES 

Part I 5 

Part II . , 12 

Part III 21 

Part IV 28 

Part V 35 

Part VI 49 

LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH BY VOLTAIRE 

Letter I On the Quakers . 65 

Letter II On the Quakers 69 

Letter III On the Quakers 71 

Letter IV On the Quakers 75 

Letter V On the Church of England 79 

Letter VI On the Presbyterians 82 

Letter VII On the Socinians, or Arians, or Antitrinitarians 84 

Letter VIII On the Parliament 86 

Letter IX On the Government 89 

Letter X On Trade 93 

Letter XI On Inoculation 95 

Letter XII On the Lord Bacon 99 

Letter XIII On Mr. Locke 103 

Letter XIV On Descartes and Sir Isaac Newton . .no 

Letter XV On Attraction 115 

Letter XVI On Sir Isaac Newton s Optics .... 124 
Letter XVII On Infinites in Geometry, and Sir Isaac 

Newton s Chronology 127 

Letter XVIII On Tragedy 133 

Letter XIX On Comedy 139 

Letter XX On Such of the Nobility as Cultivate the 

Belles Lettres 143 

(A) 1 HC xxxiv 



2 CONTENTS 

FAGS 

LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH (Continued) 

Letter XXI On the Earl of Rochester and Mr. Waller 145 

Letter XXII On Mr. Pope and Some Other Famous Poets 150 
Letter XXIII On the Regard That Ought to be Shown 

to Men of Letters 154 

Letter XXIV On the Royal Society and Other Academies 158 

A DISCOURSE UPON THE ORIGIN AND THE FOUNDATION OF 

THE INEQUALITY AMONG MANKIND 167 

BY J. J. ROUSSEAU 

First Part 171 

\Second Part 202 

PROFESSION OF FAITH OF A SAVOYARD VICAR ..... 245 

OF MAN, BEING THE FIRST PART OF LEVIATHAN 
BY THOMAS HOBBES 

Chapter I Of Sense 323 

Chapter II Of Imagination . . 325 

Chapter III Of the Consequence or Train of Imaginations 330 

Chapter IV Of Speech 335 

Chapter V Of Reason and Science 343 

* Chapter VI Of the Interior Beginnings of Voluntary 
Motions, Commonly Called the Passions; and the 
Speeches by Which They Are Expressed .... 35 
Chapter VII Of the Ends, or Resolutions of Discourse 359 
Chapter VIII Of the Virtues Commonly Called Intellec 
tual, and Their Contrary Defects 362 

Chapter IX Of the Several Subjects of Knowledge . . 373 
Chapter X Of Power, Worth, Dignity, Honour, and 

Worthiness , 374 

Chapter XI Of the Difference of Mariners . . . , 384 

^Chapter XII Of Religion 391 

^Chapter XIII Of the Natural Condition of Mankind as 
Vr""Concerning Their Felicity and Misery ...... 402 

/^Chapter XIV Of the First and Second Natural Laws, 

and of Contracts 40? 

-Chapter XV Of Other Laws of Nature 417 

Chapter XVI Of Persons, Authors, and Things Per 
sonated 430 



INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

RENE DESCARTES was born at La Haye in Touraine, March 
31, 1596. He came of a landed family with possessions in Brit 
tany as well as in the south. His education was begun at the 
Jesuit College of La Fleche, continued at Paris, and completed 
by travel in various countries; and his studies were varied by 
several years of military service. After he began to devote 
himself to philosophy, he lived chiefly in Holland; but the last 
five months of his life were spent in Stockholm, at the court of 
Queen Christina of Sweden, where he died on February n, 1650. 

While still young, Descartes had become profoundly dissatis 
fied with the scholastic philosophy, which still survived in the 
teaching of the Jesuits from whom he received bis early, train- 
ing; and adopting a skeptical attitude he set out on his travels 
determined "to gain knowledge only from himself and the great 
book of ^ the world, from nature and the observation of man" - 
It_was in Germany, as he tells us, that there came to him the 
idea which proved the starting point of his whole system of 
thought, the idea, "I think, therefore I exist," which called a 
halt to the philosophical doubt with which he had resolved to 
regard everything that could conceivably be doubted. On this 
basis he built up a philosophy which is usually regarded as 
the foundation of modern thought. Not that the system of 
Descartes is accepted to-day; but the sweeping away of r_esup- 
P^^pwj_aj[lkjn&^^ he proposed for the 

discovery of truth, have made possible the whole modern philo 
sophic development. It was in the "Discourse" here printed, 
originally published in 1637, that this method was first presented 
to the world. 

Descartes was distinguished in physics and mathematics as 
well as in philosophy; and his "Geometry" revolutionized the 
study of that science. 



[PREFATORY NOTE BY THE AUTHOR.] 

IF this Discourse appear too long to be read at once, it may 
be divided into six parts : and, in the first, will be found various 
considerations touching the Sciences ; in the second, the principal 
rules of the Method which the Author has discovered; in the 
third, certain of the rules of Morals which he has deduced 
from this Method ; in the fourth, the reasonings by which he 
establishes the existence of God and of the Human Soul, which 
are the foundations of his Metaphysic; in the fifth, the order 
of the Physical questions which he has investigated, and, in 
particular, the explication of the motion of the heart and of some 
other difficulties pertaining to Medicine, as also the difference 
between the soul of man and that of the brutes; and, in the 
last, what the Author believes to be required in order to greater 
advancement in the investigation of Nature than has yet been 
made, with the reasons that have induced him to write. 



DISCOURSE ON METHOD 

BY RENE DESCARTES 

PART I 

GDOD SENSE is, of all things among men, the most 
equally distributed; for every one thinks himself so 
abundantly provided with it, that those even who are 
the most difficult to satisfy in everything else, do not usually 
desire a larger measure of this quality than they already 
possess. And in this it is not likely that all are mistaken : the 
conviction is rather to be held as testifying that the power of 
judging aright and of distinguishing Truth from Error, which 
is properly what is called Good Sense or Reason, is by nature 
equal in all men ; and that the diversity of our opinions, con 
sequently, does not arise from some being endowed with 
a larger share of Reason than others, but solely from this, 
that we conduct our thoughts along different ways, and do 
not fix our attention on the same objects. For to be pos 
sessed of a vigorous mind is not enough ; the prime requisite 
is rightly to apply it. The greatest minds, as they are capa 
ble of the highest excellencies, are open likewise to the great 
est aberrations; and those who travel very slowly may yet 
make far greater progress, provided they keep always to the 
straight road, than those who, while they run, forsake it. 

For myself, I have never fancied my mind to be in any 
respect more perfect than those of the generality; on the 
contrary, I have often wished that I were equal to some 
others in promptitude of thought, or in clearness and dis 
tinctness of imagination, or in fulness and readiness of 
memory. And besides these, I know of no other qualities 
that contribute to the perfection of the mind; for as to the 
Reason or Sense, inasmuch as it is that alone which con 
stitutes us men, and distinguishes us from the brutes, I am 
disposed to believe that it is to be found complete in each 

B 



6 DESCARTES 

individual; and on this point to adopt the common opinion 
of philosophers, who say that the difference of greater and 
less holds only among the accidents, and not among the 
forms or natures of individuals of the same species. 

I will not hesitate, however, to avow my belief that it has 
been my singular good fortune to have very early in life 
fallen in with certain tracks which have conducted me to 
considerations and maxims, of which I have formed a 
Method that gives me the means, as I think, of gradually 
augmenting my knowledge, and of raising it by little and 
little to the highest point which the mediocrity of my talents 
and the brief duration of my life will permit me to reach. 
For I have already reaped from it such fruits that, al 
though I have been accustomed to think lowly enough of 
myself, and although when I look with the eye of a phil 
osopher at the varied courses and pursuits of mankind at 
large, I find scarcely one which does not appear vain and 
useless, I nevertheless derive the highest satisfaction from 
the progress I conceive myself to have already made in the 
search after truth, and cannot help entertaining such ex 
pectations of the future as to believe that if, among the 
occupations of men as men, there is any one really excellent 
and important, it is that which I have chosen. 

After all, it is possible I may be mistaken; and it is but 
a little copper and glass, perhaps, that I take for gold and 
diamonds. I know how very liable we are to delusion in 
what relates to ourselves, and also how much the judgments 
of our friends are to be suspected when given in our favour. 
But I shall endeavour in this Discourse to describe the 
paths I have followed, and to delineate my life as in a 
picture, in order that each one may be able to judge of 
them for himself, and that in the general opinion enter 
tained of them, as gathered from current report, I myself 
may have a new help towards instruction to be added to those 
I have been in the habit of employing. 

My present design, then, is not to teach the Method 

which each ought to follow for the right conduct of his 

. Reason, but solely to describe the way in which I have 

endeavoured to conduct my own. They who set themselves 

to give precepts must of course regard themselves as pos- 



DISCOURSE ON METHOD 7 

sessed of greater skill than those to whom they prescribe; 
and if they err in the slightest particular, they subject them 
selves to censure. But as this Tract is put forth merely as 
a history, or, if you will, as a tale, in which, amid some 
examples worthy of imitation, there will be found, perhaps, 
as many more which it were advisable not to follow, I hope 
it will prove useful to some without being hurtful to any, and 
that my openness will find some favour with all. 

From my childhood, I have been familiar with letters; 
and as I was given to believe that by their help a clear and 
certain knowledge of all that is useful in life might be ac 
quired, I was ardently desirous of instruction. But as soon 
as I had finished the entire course of study, at the close of 
which it is customary to be admitted into the order of the 
learned, I completely changed my opinion. For I found 
myself involved in so many doubts and errors, that I was 
convinced I had advanced no farther in all my attempts at 
learning, than the discovery at every turn of my own igno 
rance. And yet I was studying in one of the most cele 
brated Schools in Europe, in which I thought there must be 
learned men, if such were anywhere to be found. I had 
been taught all that others learned there; and not contented 
with the sciences actually taught us, I had, in addition, read 
all the books that had fallen into my hands, treating of such 
branches as are esteemed the most curious and rare. I 
knew the judgment which others had formed of me; and 
I did not find that I was considered inferior to my fellows, 
although there were among them some who were already 
marked out to fill the places of our instructors. And, in 
fine, our age appears to me as flourishing, and as fertile 
in powerful minds as any preceding one. I was thus led 
to take the liberty of judging of all other men by myself, 
and of concluding that there was no science in existence 
that was of such a nature as I had previously been given 
to believe. 

I still continued, however, to hold in esteem the studies 
of the Schools. I was aware that the Languages taught 
in them are necessary to the understanding of the writings 
of the ancients; that the grace of Fable stirs the mind; that 
the memorable deeds of History elevate it; and, if read 



8 DESCARTES 

with discretion, aid in forming the judgment; that the 
perusal of all excellent books is, as it were, to interview 
with the noblest men of past ages, who have written them, 
and even a studied interview, in which are discovered to us 
only their choicest thoughts; that Eloquence has incompar 
able force and beauty; that Poesy has its ravishing graces 
and delights ; that in the Mathematics there are many refined 
discoveries eminently suited to gratify the inquisitive, as 
well as further all the arts and lessen the labour of man; 
that numerous highly useful precepts and exhortations to 
virtue are contained in treatises on Morals; that Theology 
points out the path to heaven; that Philosophy affords the 
means of discoursing with an appearance of truth on all 
matters, and commands the admiration of the more simple; 
that Jurisprudence, Medicine, and the other Sciences, secure 
for their cultivators honours and riches; and in fine, that 
it is useful to bestow some attention upon all, even upon 
those abounding the most in superstition and error, that we 
may be in a position to determine their real value, and guard 
against being deceived. 

But I believed that I had already given sufficient time to 
Languages, and likewise to the reading of the writings of 
the ancients, to their Histories and Fables. For to hold 
converse with those of other ages and to travel, are almost 
the same thing. It is useful to know something of the man 
ners of different nations, that we may be enabled to form 
a more correct judgment regarding our own, and be pre 
vented from thinking that everything contrary to our cus 
toms is ridiculous and irrational, a conclusion usually 
come to by those whose experience has been limited to 
their own country. On the other hand, when too much 
time is occupied in travelling, we become strangers to our 
native country; and the over curious in the customs of the 
past are generally ignorant of those of the present. Be 
sides, fictitious narratives lead us to imagine the possibility 
of many events that are impossible; and even the most 
faithful histories, if they do not wholly misrepresent 
matters, or exaggerate their importance to render tke 
account of them more worthy of perusal, omit, at least, 
almost always the meanest and least striking of the at- 



DISCOURSE ON METHOD 9 

tendant circumstances; hence it happens that the re 
mainder does not represent the truth, and that such as 
regulate their conduct by examples drawn from this 
source, are apt to fall into the extravagances of the 
knight-errants of Romance, and to entertain projects that 
exceed their powers. 

I esteemed Eloquence highly, and was in raptures with 
Poesy; but I thought that both were gifts of nature rather 
than fruits of study. Those in whom the faculty of Reason 
is predominant, and who most skilfully dispose their 
thoughts with a view to render them clear and intelligible, 
are always the best able to persuade others of the truth 
of what they lay down, though they should speak only in the 
language of Lower Brittany, and be wholly ignorant of 
the rules of Rhetoric; and those whose minds are stored 
with the most agreeable fancies, and who can give ex 
pression to them with the greatest embellishment and har 
mony, are still the best poets, though unacquainted with the 
Art of Poetry. 

I was especially delighted with the Mathematics, on ac 
count of the certitude and evidence of their reasonings: 
but I had not as yet a precise knowledge of their true use; 
and thinking that they but contributed to the advancement 
of the mechanical arts, I was astonished that foundations, 
so strong and solid, should have had no loftier super 
structure reared on them. On the other hand, I compared 
the disquisitions of the ancient Moralists to very towering 
and magnificent palaces with no better foundation than sand 
and mud: they laud the virtues very highly, and exhibit 
them as estimable far above anything on earth; but they 
give us no adequate criterion of virtue, and frequently that 
which they designate with so fine a name is but apathy, or 
pride, or despair, or parricide. 

I revered our Theology, and aspired as much as any one 
to reach heaven: but being given assuredly to understand 
that the way is not less open to the most ignorant than to 
the most learned, and that the revealed truths which lead 
to heaven are above our comprehension, I did not presume 
to subject them to the impotency of my Reason; and I 
thought that in order competently to undertake their exam- 



10 DESCARTES 

ination, there was need of some special help from heaven, 
and of being more than man. 

Of philososphy I will say nothing, except that when 
I saw that it had been cultivated for many ages by the 
most distinguished men, and that yet there is not a single 
matter within its sphere which is not still in dispute, and 
nothing, therefore, which is above doubt, I did not presume 
to anticipate that my success would be greater in it than 
that of others; and further, when I considered the number 
of conflicting opinions touching a single matter that may 
be upheld by learned men, while there can be but one true, 
I reckoned as well-nigh false all that was only probable. 

As to the other Sciences, inasmuch as these borrow their 
principles from Philosophy, I judged that no solid super 
structures could be reared on foundations so infirm; and 
neither the honour nor the gain held out by them was 
sufficient to determine me to their cultivation: for I was 
not, thank Heaven, in a condition which compelled me to 
make merchandise of Science for the bettering of my for 
tune; and though I might not profess to scorn glory as a 
Cynic, I yet made very slight account of that honour which 
I hoped to acquire only through fictitious titles. And, in 
fine, of false Sciences I thought I knew the worth sufficiently 
to escape being deceived by the professions of an alchemist, 
the predictions of an astrologer, the impostures of a ma 
gician, or by the artifices and boasting of any of those who 
profess to know things of which they are ignorant. 

For these reasons, as soon as my age permitted me to 
pass from under the control of my instructors, I entirely 
abandoned the study of letters, and resolved no longer to 
seek any other science than the knowledge of myself, or of 
the great book of the world. I spent the remainder of my 
youth in travelling, in visiting courts and armies, in holding 
intercourse with men of different dispositions and ranks, 
in collecting varied experience, in proving myself in the 
different situations into which fortune threw me, and, above 
all, in making such reflection on the matter of my experi 
ence as to secure my improvement. For it occurred to me 
that I should find much more cuife_ in the reasonings of 
each individual with reference to the affairs in which he is 






DISCOURSE ON METHOD 11 

personally interested, and the issue of which must presently 
punish him if he has judged amiss, than in those conducted 
by a man of letters in his study, regarding speculative mat 
ters that are of no practical moment, and followed by no 
consequences to himself, farther, perhaps, than that they 
foster his vanity the better the more remote they are from 
common sense; requiring, as they must in this case, the 
exercise of greater ingenuity and art to render them 
probable. In addition, I had always a most earnest desire 
to know how to distinguish the true from, the false, in 
order that I might be able clearly to discriminate the right 
path in life, and proceed in it with confidence. 

It is true that, while busied only in considering the 
manners of other men, I found here, too, scarce any ground 
for settled conviction, and remarked hardly less contradic 
tion among them than in the opinions of the philosophers. 
So that the greatest advantage I derived from the study 
consisted in this, that, observing many things which, how 
ever extravagant and ridiculous to our apprehension, arft 
yet by common consent received and approved by other 
great nations, I learned to entertain too decided a belief 
in regard to nothing of the truth of which I had been 
persuaded merely by example and custom: and thus I 
gradually extricated myself from many errors powerful 
enough to darken our Natural Intelligence, and inca 
pacitate us in great measure from listening to Reason. But 
after I had been occupied several years in thus studying the 
book of the world, and in essaying to gather some experi 
ence, I at length resolved to make myself an object of study, 
and to employ all the powers of my mind in choosing the 
paths I ought to follow; an undertaking which was ac 
companied ^vith greater success than it would have been had 
I never quitted my country or my books. 



PART II 

I WAS then in Germany, attracted thither by the wars in 
that country, which have not yet been brought to a ter 
mination ; and as I was returning to the army from the 
coronation of the Emperor, the setting in of winter ar 
rested me in a locality where, as I found no society to in 
terest me, and was besides fortunately undisturbed by any 
cares or passions, I remained the whole day in seclusion, 1 
with full opportunity to occupy my attention with my own 
thoughtsjTof these one of the very first that occurred to 
me wasjmat there is seldom so much perfection in works 
compose^" of many separate parts, upon which different 
hands have been employed, as in those completed by a 
single masterTTThus it is observable that the buildings which 
a single architect has planned and executed, are generally 
more elegant and commodious than those which several 
have attempted to improve, by making old walls serve for 
purposes for which they were not originally built. Thus 
also, those ancient cities which, from being at first only 
villages, have become, in course of time, large towns, are 
usually but ill laid out compared with the regularly con 
structed towns which a professional architect has freely 
planned on an open plain; so that although the several 
buildings of the former may often equal or surpass ^in 
beauty those of the latter, yet when one observes their in 
discriminate juxtaposition, there a large one and here a 
small, and the consequent crookedness and irregularity of 
the streets, one is disposed to allege that chance rather than 
any human will guided by reason, must have led to such an 
arrangement. And if we consider that nevertheless there 
have been at all times certain officers whose duty it was to 
see that private buildings contributed to public ornament, 

1 Literally, in a room heated by means of a stove. Tr. 

12 



DISCOURSE ON METHOD 13 

the difficulty of reaching high perfection with but the ma 
terials of others to operate on, will be readily acknowledged. 
Lin the same way I fancied that those nations which, start 
ing from a semi-barbarous state and advancing to civilisa 
tion by slow degrees, have had their laws successively 
determined, and, as it were, forced upon them simply by 
experience of the hurtfulness of particular crimes and 
disputes, would by this process come to be possessed of less 
perfect institutions than those which, from the commence 
ment of their association as communities^ have followed 
the appointments of some wise legislator} Lit is thus quite 
certain that the constitution of the true religion, the ordi 
nances of which are derived from God, must be incompar 
ably superior to that of every otherjf And, to speak of 
human affairs, I believe that the past pre-eminence of Sparta 
was due not to the goodness of each of its laws in particular, 
for many of these were very strange, and even opposed to 
good morals, but to the circumstance that, originated by a 
single individual, they all tended to a single end. In the 
same way I thought that the^ciences contained in books, 
(such of them at least as are made up of probable reason 
ings, without demonstrations,) composed as they are of the 
opinions of many different individuals massed together, are 
farther removed from truth than the simple inferences 
which a man of good sense using his natural and un 
prejudiced judgment draws respecting the matters of his 
experience.jjAnd becaus^Qve have all to pass through a 
state of infancy to manhood, and have been of necessity, 
for a length of time, governed by our desires and preceptors, 
(whose dictates were frequently conflicting, while neither 
perhaps always counselled us for the best,) I farther 
concluded that it is almost impossible that our judgments 
can be so correct or solid as they would have been, had our 
Reason been mature from the moment of our birth, and 
had we always been guided by it alone] 

It is true, however, that it is not customary to pull down 
all the houses of a town with the single design of rebuild 
ing them differently, and thereby rendering the streets more 
handsome; but it often happens that a private individual 
takes down his own with the view of erecting it anew, 



14 DESCARTES 

and that people are even sometimes constrained to this when 
their houses are in danger pf falling from age, or when the 
foundations are insecure. With this before me by way of 
example, I was persuaded that it would indeed be pre 
posterous for a private individual to think of reforming a 
state by fundamentally changing it throughout, and over 
turning it in order to set it up amended; and the same I 
thought was true of any similar project for reforming the 
body of the Sciences, or the order of teaching them estab 
lished in the Schools: but as for the opinions which up to 
that time I had embraced, I thought that I could not do 
better than resolve at once to sweep them Wholly away, 
that I might afterwards be in a position to admit either 
others more correct, or even perhaps the same when they 
had undergone the scrutiny of Reason. I firmly believed 
tha t in this way I should much better succeed in the con 
duct of my life^ than if I built only upon old foundations, 
and leant upon principles which, in my youth, I had 
taken upon trust. For although I recognised various dif 
ficulties in this undertaking, these were not, however, with 
out remedy, nor once to be compared with such as attend 
the slightest reformation in public affairs. Large bodies, 
if once bverthrown, are with great difficulty set up again, 
or eveii kept erect when once seriously shaken, and the 
fall of such is always disastrous. Then if there are any 
imperfections in the constitutions of states, (and that 
many such exist the diversity of constitutions is alone 
sufficient to assure us,) custom has without doubt materially 
smoothed their inconveniences, and has even managed to 
steer altogether clear of, or insensibly corrected a number 
which sagacity could not have provided against with equal 
effect; and, in fine, the defects are almost always more 
tolerable than the change necessary for their removal; in 
the same manner that highways which wind among moun 
tains, by being much frequented, become gradually so 
smooth and commodious, that it is much better to follow 
them than to seek a straighter path by climbing over the 
tops of rocks and descending to the bottoms of precipices. 

Hence it is that I cannot in any degree approve of those 
restless and busy meddlers who, called neither by birth nor 



DISCOURSE ON METHOD IS 

fortune to take part in the management of public affairs, 
are yet always projecting reforms; and if I thought that 
this Tract contained aught which might justify the sus 
picion that I was a victim of such folly, I would by no 
means permit its publication. I have never contemplated 
anything higher than the reformation of my own opinions, 
and basing them on a foundation wholly my own. And 
although my own satisfaction with my work has led me 
to present here a draft of it, I do not by any means 
therefore recommend to every one else to make a sim^ 
ilar attempt. Those whom God has endowed with a 
larger measure of genius will entertain, perhaps, designs 
still more exalted; but for the many I am much afraid lest 
even the present undertaking be more than they can safely 
venture to imitate. The single design to strip one s self 
of all past beliefs is one that ought not to be taken by every 
one. The majority of men is composed of two classes, for 
neither of which would this be at all a befitting resolution: 
in the first place, of those who with mote than a due con 
fidence in their own powers, are precipitate In their judg 
ments and want the patience requisite for orderly and cir 
cumspect thinking; whence it happens, that if men of this 
class once take the liberty to doubt of their accustomed 
opinions, and quit the beaten highway, they will never be 
able to thread the byeway that would lead them by a shorter 
course, and will lose themselves and continue to wander 
for life; in the second place, of those who, possessed of 
sufficient sense or modesty to determine that there are 
others who excel them in the power of discriminating be 
tween truth and error, and by whom they may be instructed, 
ought rather to content themselves with the opinions of such 
than trust for more correct to their own Reason* 

For my own part, I should doubtless have belonged to 
the latter class, had I received instruction from but one 
master, or had I never known the diversities of opinion 
that from time immemorial have prevailed among men of 
the greatest learning. But I had become aware, even so 
early as during my college life, that no opinion, however 
absurd and incredible, can be imagined, which has not been 
maintained by some one of the philosophers; and after- 



16 DESCARTES 

wards in the course of my travels I remarked that all those 
whose opinions are decidedly repugnant to ours are not 
on that account barbarians and savages, but on the contrary 
that many of these nations make an equally good, if not a 
better, use of their Reason than we do. I took into account 
also the very different character which a person brought 
up from infancy in France or Germany exhibits, from that 
which, with the same mind originally, this individual would 
have possessed had he lived always among the Chinese or 
with savages, and the circumstance that in dress itself the 
fashion which pleased us ten years ago, and which may 
again, perhaps, be received into favour before ten years 
have gone, appears to us at this moment extravagant and 
ridiculous. I was thus led to infer that the ground of our 
opinions is far more custom and example than any certain 
knowledge. And, finally, although such be the ground of 
our opinions, I remarked that a plurality of suffrages is no 
guarantee of truth where it is at all of difficult discovery, 
as in such cases it is much more likely that it will be found 
by one than by many. I could, however, select from the 
crowd no one whose opinions seemed worthy of preference, 
and thus I found myself constrained, as it were, to use 
my own Reason in the conduct of my life. 

But like one walking alone and in the dark, I resolved 
to proceed so slowly and with such circumspection, that if 
I did not advance far, I would at least guard against fall 
ing. I did not even choose to dismiss summarily any of the 
opinions that had crept into my belief without having been 
introduced by Reason, but first of all took sufficient time 
carefully to satisfy myself of the general nature of the 
task I was setting myself, and ascertain the true Method 
by which to arrive at the knowledge of whatever lay within 
the compass of my powers. 

Among the branches of Philosophy, I had, at an earlier 
period, given some attention to Logic, and among those of 
the Mathematics to Geometrical Analysis and Algebra, 
three Arts or Sciences which ought, as I conceived, to con 
tribute something to my design. But, on examination, I 
found that, as for Logic, its syllogisms and the majority of 
its other precepts are of avail rather in the communication 



DISCOURSE ON METHOD 17 

of what we already know, or even as the Art of Lully, in 
speaking without judgment of things of which we are igno 
rant, than in the investigation of the unknown; and although 
this Science contains indeed a number of correct and very 
excellent precepts, there are, nevertheless, so many others, 
and these either injurious or superfluous, mingled with the 
former, that it is almost quite as difficult to effect a severance 
of the true from the false as it is to extract a Diana or a 
Minerva from a rough block of marble. Then as to the 
Analysis of the ancients and the Algebra of the moderns, 
besides that they embrace only matters highly abstract, and, 
to appearance, of no use, the former is so exclusively re 
stricted to ttte consideration of figures, that it can exercise 
the Understanding only on condition of greatly fatiguing the 
Imagination; 2 and, in the latter, there is so complete a sub 
jection to certain rules and formulas, that there results an 
art full of confusion and obscurity calculated to embarrass, 
instead of a science fitted to cultivate the mind. By these 
considerations I was induced to seek some other Method 
which would comprise the advantages of the three and 
be exempt from their defects. And as a multitude of laws 
often only hampers justice, so that a state is best governed 
when, with few laws, these are rigidly administered; in like 
manner, instead of the great number of precepts of which 
Logic is composed, I believed that the four following would 
prove perfectly sufficient for me, provided I took the firm 
and unwavering resolution never in a single instance to fail 
in observing them. 

The first was never to accept anything for true which I 
did not clearly know to be such; that is to say, carefully to 
avoid precipitancy and prejudice, and to comprise nothing 
more in my judgment than what was presented to my mind 
so clearly and distinctly as to exclude all ground of doubt. 

The second, to divide each of the difficulties under exam 
ination into as many parts as possible, and as might be neces 
sary for its adequate solution. 

The third, to conduct my thoughts in such order that, by 
commencing with objects the simplest and easiest to know, 

2 The Imagination must here be taken as equivalent simply to the Repre 
sentative Faculty. Jr. 



18 DESCARTES 

I might ascend by little and little, and, as it were, step by 
step, to the knowledge of the more complex; assigning in 
thought a certain order even to those objects which in their 
own nature do not stand in a relation of antecedence and 
sequence. 

And the last, in every case to make enumerations so com 
plete, and reviews so general, that I might be assured that 
nothing was omitted. 

The long chains of simple and easy reasonings by means 
of which geometers are accustomed to reach the conclusions 
of their most difficult demonstrations, had led me to imagine 
that all things, to the knowledge of which man is competent, 
are mutually connected in the same way, and that there is 
nothing so far removed from us as to be beyond our reach, 
or so hidden that we cannot discover it, provided only we 
abstain from accepting the false for the true, and always 
preserve in our thoughts the order necessary for the deduc 
tion of one truth from another. And I had little difficulty in 
determining the objects with which it was necessary to com 
mence, for I was already persuaded that it must be with the 
simplest and easiest to know, and, considering that of all 
those who have hitherto sought truth in the Sciences, the 
mathematicians alone have been able to find any demonstra 
tions, that is, any certain and evident reasons, I did not 
doubt but that such must have been the rule of their inves 
tigations. I resolved to commence, therefore, with the ex 
amination of the simplest objects, not anticipating, however, 
from this any other advantage than that to be found in accus 
toming my mind to the love and nourishment of truth, and to 
a distaste for all such reasonings as were unsound. But I 
had no intention on that account of attempting to master all 
the particular Sciences commonly denominated Mathematics : 
but observing that, however different their objects, they all 
agree in considering only the various relations or proportions 
subsisting among those objects, I thought it best for my pur 
pose to consider these proportions in the most general form 
possible, without referring them to any objects in particular, 
except such as would most facilitate the knowledge of them, 
and without by any means restricting them to these, that 
afterwards I might thus be the better able to apply them to 



DISCOURSE ON METHOD 19 

every other class of objects to which they are legitimately 
applicable. Perceiving further, that in order to understand 
these relations I should sometimes have to consider them one 
by one, and sometimes only to bear them in mind, or em 
brace them in the aggregate, I thought that, in order the 
better to consider them individually, I should view them as 
subsisting between straight lines, than which I could find no 
objects more simple, or capable of being more distinctly rep 
resented to my imagination and senses; and on the other 
hand, that in order to retain them in the memory, or embrace 
an aggregate of many, I should express them by certain 
characters the briefest possible. In this way I believed that 
I could borrow all that was best both in Geometrical Analy 
sis and in Algebra, and correct all the defects of the one by 
help of the other. 

And, in point of fact, the accurate observance of these few 
precepts gave me, I take the liberty of saying, such ease in 
unravelling all the questions embraced in these two sciences, 
that in the two or three months I devoted to their examina 
tion, not only did I reach solutions of questions I had for 
merly deemed exceedingly difficult, but even as regards ques 
tions of the solution of which I continued ignorant, I was 
enabled, as it appeared to me, to determine the means 
whereby, and the extent to which, a solution was possible; 
results attributable to the circumstance that I commenced 
with the simplest and most general truths, and that thus each 
truth discovered was a rule available in the discovery of 
subsequent ones. Nor in this perhaps shall I appear too 
vain if it be considered that, as the truth on any particular 
point is one, whoever apprehends the truth, knows all that 
on that point can be known. The child, for example, who 
has been instructed in the elements of Arithmetic, and has 
made a particular addition, according to rule, may be assured 
that he has found, with respect to the sum of the numbers 
before him, all that in this instance is within the reach of 
human genius. Now, in conclusion, the Method which 
teaches adherence to the true order, and an exact enumera 
tion of all the conditions of the thing sought includes all that 
gives certitude to the rules of Arithmetic. 

But the chief ground of my satisfaction with this Method, 



20 DESCARTES 

was the assurance I had of thereby exercising my reason in 
all matters, if not with absolute perfection, at least with the 
greatest attainable by me: besides, I was conscious that by 
its use my mind was becoming gradually habituated to 
clearer and more distinct conceptions of its objects; and I 
hoped also, from not having restricted this Method to any 
particular matter, to apply it to the difficulties of the other 
Sciences, with not less success than to those of Algebra. I 
should not, however, on this account have ventured at once 
on the examination of all the difficulties of the Sciences 
which presented themselves to me, for this would have been 
contrary to the order prescribed in the Method, but observing 
that the knowledge of such is dependent on principles bor 
rowed from Philosophy, in which I found nothing certain, I 
thought it necessary first of all to endeavour to establish its 
principles. And because I observed, besides, that an inquiry 
of this kind was of all others of the greatest moment, and 
one in which precipitancy and anticipation in judgment were 
most to be dreaded, I thought that I ought not to approach 
it till I had reached a more mature age, (being at that time 
but twenty-three,) and had first of all employed much of my 
time in preparation for the work, as well by eradicating 
from my mind all the erroneous opinions I had up to that 
moment accepted, as by amassing variety of experience to 
afford materials for my reasonings, and by continually exer 
cising myself in my chosen Method with a view to increased 
skill in its application. 



PART III 

A ND, finally, as it is not enough, before commencing to 
/\ rebuild the house in which we live, that it be pulled 
JLJL down, and materials and builders provided, or that we 
engage in the work ourselves, according to a plan which we 
have beforehand carefully drawn out, but as it is likewise 
necessary that we be furnished with some other house in 
which we may live commodiously during the operations, so 
that I might not remain irresolute in my actions, while my 
Reason compelled me to suspend my judgment, and that I 
might not be prevented from living thenceforward in the 
greatest possible felicity, I formed a provisory code of 
Morals, composed of three or four maxims, with which I 
am desirous to make you acquainted. 

The first was to obey the laws and customs of my country, 
adhering firmly to the Faith in which, by the grace of God, 
I had been educated from my childhood, and regulating my 
conduct in every other matter according to the most mod 
erate opinions, and the farthest removed from extremes, 
which should happen to be adopted in practice with general 
consent of the most judicious of those among whom I might 
be living. For, as I had from that time begun to hold my 
own opinions for nought because I wished to subject them 
all to examination, I was convinced that I could not do 
better than follow in the meantime the opinions of the most 
judicious; and although there are some perhaps among the 
Persians and Chinese as judicious as among ourselves, ex 
pediency seemed to dictate that I should regulate my prac 
tice conformably to the opinions of those with whom I 
should have to live ; and it appeared to me that, in order to 
ascertain the real opinions of such, I ought rather to take 
cognizance of what they practised than of what they said, 
not only because, in the corruption of our manners, there 
are few disposed to speak exactly as they believe, but also 

21 



22 DESCARTES 

because very many are not aware of what it is that they 
really believe; for, as the act of mind by which a thing is 
believed is different from that by which we know that we 
believe it, the one act is often found without the other. 
Also, amid many opinions held in equal repute, I chose 
always the most moderate, as much for the reason that these 
are always the most convenient for practice, and probably 
the best, (for all excess is generally vicious,) as that, in the 
event of my falling into error, I might be at less distance 
from the truth than if, having chosen one of the extremes, it 
should turn out to be the other which I ought to have 
adopted. And I placed in the class of extremes especially 
all promises by which somewhat of our freedom is abridged; 
not that I disapproved of the laws which, to provide against 
the instability of men of feeble resolution, when what is 
sought to be accomplished is some good, permit engagements 
by vows and contracts binding the parties to persevere in it, 
or even, for the security of commerce, sanction similar en 
gagements where the purpose sought to be realized is in 
different : but because I did not find anything on earth which 
was wholly superior to change, and because, for myself in 
particular, I hoped gradually to perfect my judgments, and 
not to suffer them to deteriorate, I would have deemed it a 
grave sin against good sense, if, for the reason that I ap 
proved of something at a particular time, I therefore bound 
myself to hold it for good at a subsequent time, when per 
haps it had ceased to be so, or I had ceased to esteem it 
such. 

My second maxim was to be as firm and resolute in my 
actions as I was able, and not to adhere less steadfastly to 
the most doubtful opinions, when once adopted, than if they 
had been highly certain; imitating in this the example of 
travellers who, when they have lost their way in a forest, 
ought not to wander from side to side, far less remain in 
one place, but proceed constantly towards the same side in as 
straight a line as possible, without changing their direction 
for slight reasons, although perhaps it might be chance alone 
which at first determined the selection; for in this way, if 
they do not exactly reach the point they desire, they will 
come at least in the end to some place that will probably be 



DISCOURSE ON METHOD 23 

preferable to the middle of a forest. In the same way, since 
in action it frequently happens that no delay is permissible, 
it is very certain that, when it is not in our power to de 
termine what is true, we ought to act according to what is 
most probable; and even although we should not remark a 
greater probability in one opinion than in another, we ought 
notwithstanding to choose one or the other, and afterwards 
consider it, in so far as it relates to practice, as no longer 
dubious, but manifestly true and certain, since the reason 
by which our choice has been determined is itself possessed 
of these qualities. This principle was sufficient thencefor 
ward to rid me of all those repentings and pangs of remorse 
that usually disturb the consciences of such feeble and un 
certain minds as, destitute of any clear and determinate 
principle of choice, allow themselves one day to adopt a 
course of action as the best, which they abandon the next, 
as the opposite. 

My third maxim was to endeavour always to conquer my 
self rather than fortune, and change my desires rather than 
the order of the world, and in general, accustom myself to 
the persuasion that, except our own thoughts, there is noth 
ing absolutely in our power; so that when we have done 
our best in respect of things external to us, all wherein we 
fail of success is to be held, as regards us, absolutely im 
possible: and this single principle seemed to me sufficient to 
prevent me from desiring for the future anything which I 
could not obtain, and thus render me cqn^ented for since 
our will naturally seeks those objects alone which the under 
standing represents as in some way possible of attainment, 
it is plain, that if we consider all external goods as equally 
beyond our power, we shall no more regret the absence of 
such goods as seem due to our birth, when deprived of them 
without any fault of ours, than our not possessing the king 
doms of China or Mexico ; and thus making, so to speak, a 
virtue of necessity, we shall no more desire health in disease, 
or freedom in imprisonment, than we now do bodies incor 
ruptible as diamonds, or the wings of birds to fly with. But 
I confess there is need of prolonged discipline and frequently 
repeated meditation to accustom the mind to view all objects 
in this light; and I believe that in this chiefly consisted the 



24 DESCARTES 

secret of the power of such philosophers as in former times 
were enabled to rise superior to the influence of fortune, and 
amid suffering and poverty, enjoy a happiness which their 
gods might have envied. For, occupied incessantly with the 
consideration of the limits prescribed to their power by na 
ture, they became so entirely convinced that nothing was at 
their disposal except their own thoughts, that this conviction 
was of itself sufficient to prevent their entertaining any de 
sire of other objects; and over their thoughts they acquired 
a sway so absolute, that they had some ground on this ac 
count for esteeming themselves more rich and more powerful, 
more free and more happy, than other men who, whatever 
be the favours heaped on them by nature and fortune, if 
destitute of this philosophy, can never command the realiza 
tion of all their desires. 

In fine, to conclude this code of Morals, I thought of 
reviewing the different occupations of men in this life, with 
the view of making choice of the best. And, without wish 
ing to offer any remarks on the employments of others, I 
may state that it was my conviction that I couldr not do bet 
ter than continue in that in which I was engaged, viz., in 
devoting my whole life to the culture of my Reason, and in 
making the greatest progress I was able in the knowledge 
of truth, on the principles of the Method which I had pre 
scribed to myself. This Method, from the time I had begun 
to apply it, had been to me the source of satisfaction so in 
tense as to lead me to believe that more perfect or more 
innocent could not be enjoyed in this life; and as by its 
means I daily discovered truths that appeared to me of some 
importance, and of which other men were generally ignorant, 
the gratification thence arising so occupied my mind that I 
was wholly indifferent to every other object. Besides, the 
three preceding maxims were founded singly on the design 
of continuing the work of self-instruction. For since God 
has endowed each of us with some Light of Reason by which 
to distinguish truth from error, I could not have believed 
that I ought for a single moment to rest satisfied with the 
opinions of another, unless I had resolved to exercise my 
own judgment in examining these whenever I should be duly 
qualified for the task. Nor could I have proceeded on such 



DISCOURSE ON METHOD 25 

opinions without scruple, had I supposed that I should there 
by forfeit any advantage for attaining still more accurate, 
should such exist. And, in fine, I could not have restrained 
my desires, nor remained satisfied, had I not followed a path 
in which I thought myself certain of attaining all the knowl 
edge to the acquisition of which I was competent, as well 
as the largest amount of what is truly good which I could 
ever hope to secure. Inasmuch as we neither seek nor shun 
any object except in so far as our understanding represents 
it as good or bad, all that is necessary to right action is right 
judgment, and to the best action the most correct judgment, 
that is, to the acquisition of all the virtues with all else 
that is truly valuable and within our reach ; and the assur 
ance of such an acquisition cannot fail to render us con 
tented. 

Having thus provided myself with these maxims, and 
having placed them in reserve along with the truths of 
Faith, which have ever occupied the first place in my belief, 
I came to the conclusion that I might with freedom set about 
ridding myself of what remained of my opinions. And, in 
asmuch as I hoped to be better able successfully to accom 
plish this work by holding intercourse with mankind, than by 
remaining longer shut up in the retirement where these 
thoughts had occurred to me, I betook me again to travelling 
before the winter was well ended. And, during the nine 
subsequent years, I did nothing but roam from one place to 
another, desirous of being a spectator rather than an actor 
in the plays exhibited on the theatre of the world; and, as I 
made it my business in each matter to reflect particularly 
upon what might fairly be doubted and prove a source of 
error, I gradually rooted out from my mind all the errors 
which had hitherto crept into it. Not that in this I imitated 
the Sceptics who doubt only that they may doubt, and seek 
nothing beyond uncertainty itself; for, on the contrary, my 
design was singly to find ground of assurance, and cast 
aside the loose earth and sand, that I might reach the rock 
or the clay. In this, as appears to me, I was successful 
enough; for, since I endeavoured to discover the falsehood 
or incertitude of the propositions I examined, not by feeble 
conjectures, but by clear and certain reasonings, I met with 



26 DESCARTES 

nothing so doubtful as not to yield some cemcfusion of ade 
quate certainty, although this were merely the inference, 
that the matter in question contained nothing certain. And, 
just as in pulling down an old house, we usually reserve the 
ruins to contribute towards the erection, so, in destroying 
such of my opinions as I judged to be ill-founded, I made a 
variety of observations and acquired an amount of ex 
perience of which I availed myself in the establishment of 
more certain. And further, I continued to exercise myself 
in the Method I had prescribed; for, besides taking care in 
general to conduct all my thoughts according to its rules, I 
reserved some hours from time to time which I expressly 
devoted to the employment of the Method in the solution of 
Mathematical difficulties, or even in the solution likewise of 
some questions belonging to other Sciences, but which, by my 
having detached them from such principles of these Sciences 
as were of inadequate certainty, were rendered almost 
Mathematical: the truth of this will be manifest from the 
numerous examples contained in this volume.* And thus, 
without in appearance living otherwise than those who, with 
no other occupation than that of spending their lives agreea 
bly and innocently, study to sever pleasure from vice, and 
who, that they may enjoy their leisure without ennui, have 
recourse to such pursuits as are honourable, I was neverthe 
less prosecuting my design, and making greater progress in 
the knowledge of truth, than I might, perhaps, have made 
had I been engaged in the perusal of books merely, or in 
holding converse with men of letters. 

These nine years passed away, however, before I had 
come to any determinate judgment respecting the difficulties 
which form matter of dispute among the learned, or had 
commenced to seek the principles of any Philosophy more 
certain than the vulgar. And the examples of many men of 
the highest genius, who had, in former times, engaged in this 
inquiry, but, as appeared to me, without success, led me to 
imagine it to be a work of so much difficulty, that I would 
not perhaps have ventured on it so soon had I not heard it 
currently rumoured that I had already completed the in- 

3 The Discourse on Method was originally published along with the Diop 
trics, the Meteorics, and the Geometry. Tr. 



DISCOURSE ON METHOD 27 

quiry. I know not what were the grounds of this opinion; 
and, if my conversation contributed in any measure to its 
rise, this must have happened rather from my having con 
fessed my ignorance with greater freedom than those are 
accustomed to do who have studied a little, and expounded, 
perhaps, the reasons that led me to doubt of many of those 
things that by others are esteemed certain, than from my 
having boasted of any system of Philosophy. But, as I am 
of a disposition that makes me unwilling to be esteemed dif 
ferent from what I really am, I thought it necessary to en 
deavour by all means to render myself worthy of the repu 
tation accorded to me; and it is now exactly eight years since 
this desire constrained me to remove from all those places 
where interruption from any of my acquaintances was pos 
sible, and betake myself to this country,* in which the long 
duration of the war has led to the establishment of such 
discipline, that the armies maintained seem to be of use only 
in enabling the inhabitants to enjoy more securely the bless 
ings of peace; and whnre, in the midst of a great crowd 
actively engaged in business, and more careful of their own 
affairs than curious about those of others, I have been en 
abled to live without being deprived of any of the conven 
iences to be had in the most populous cities, and yet as soli 
tary and as retired as in the midst of the most remote 
deserts. 

* Holland; to which country he withdrew in 1629. Tr, 



PART IV 

I AM in doubt as to the propriety of making my first 
meditations in the place above mentioned matter of dis 
course; for these are so metaphysical, and so uncom 
mon, as not, perhaps, to be acceptable to every one. And yet, 
that it may be determined whether the " jundations that I have 
laid are sufficiently secure, I find myself in a measure con 
strained to advert to them. I had long before remarked that, 
in (relation to) practice, it is sometimes necessary to adopt, 
as if above doubt, opinions which we discern to be highly 
uncertain, as has been already said; but as I then desired to 
give my attention solely to the search after truth, I thought 
that a procedure exactly the opposite was called for, and 
that I ought to reject as absolutely false all opinions in 
regard to which I could suppose the least ground for doubt, 
in order to ascertain whether after that there remained 
aught in my belief that was wholly indubitable. Accordingly, 
seeing that our senses sometimes deceive us, I was willing 
to suppose that there existed nothing really such as they 
presented to us; and because some men err in reasoning, 
and fall into paralogisms, even on the simplest matters of 
Geometry, I, convinced that I was as open to error as any 
other, rejected as false all the reasonings I had hitherto 
taken for demonstrations ; and finally, when I considered that 
the very same thoughts (presentations) which we experience 
when awake may also be experienced when we are asleep, 
while there is at that time not one of them true, I supposed 
that all the objects (presentations) that had ever entered 
into my mind when awake, had in them no more truth than 
the illusions of my dreams. But immediately upon this I 
observed that, whilst I thus wished to think that all was false, 
it was absolutely necessary that I, who thus thought, should 
be somewhat; and as I observed that this truth, / think, 
hence I am, was so certain and of such evidence, that no 

28 



DISCOURSE ON METHOD 29 

ground of doubt, however extravagant, could be alleged by 
the Sceptics capable of shaking it, I concluded that I might, 
without scruple, accept it as the first principle of the Philoso 
phy of which I was in search. 

In the next place, I attentively examined what I was, and 
as I observed that I could suppose that I had no body, and 
that there was no world nor any place in which I might be ; 
but that I could not therefore suppose that I was not; and 
that, on the contrary, from the very circumstance that I 
thought to doubt of the truth of other things, it most clearly 
and certainly followed that I was ; while, on the other hand, 
if I had only ceased to think, although all the other objects 
which I had ever imagined had been in reality existent, I 
would have had no reason to believe that I existed; I thence 
concluded that I was a substance whose whole essence or 
nat;uje consist r>ri] y * n *ki~t-ing, and which, that it may exist, 
has need of no place, nor is dependent on any material thing ; 
so that " I," that is to say, the mind by which I am what I 
am, is wholly distinct from the body, and is even more 
easily known than the latter, and is such, that although the 
latter were not, it would still continue to be all that it is. 

After this I inquired in general into what is essential to 
the truth and certainty of a proposition; for since I had dis 
covered one which I knew to be true, I thought that I must 
likewise be able to discover the ground of this certitude. 
And as I observed that in the words I think, hence I am, 
there is nothing at all which gives me assurance of their 
truth beyond this, that I see very clearly that in order to 
think it is necessary to exist, I concluded that I might take, 
as a general rule, the principle, that all the things which we 
very clearly and distinctly conceive are true, only observing, 
however, that there is some difficulty in rightly determining 
the objects which we distinctly conceive. 

In the next place, from reflecting on the circumstance that 
Ljdoubted, and that jionj^guently^^ 

perfect, (for I clearly saw that it was a greater perfection to 
know than to doubt,) I was led to inquire whence I had 
learned to think of something more perfect than myself; and 
I clearly recognised that I must hold this notion from some 
Nature which in reality was more perfect. As for the 



30 DESCARTES 

thoughts of many other objects. external to me, as of the sky, 
the earth, light, heat, and a thousand more, I was Jess at a 
loss to know whence these came; for since I remarked in 
them nothing which seemed to render them superior to my 
self, I could believe that, if these were true, they were 
dependencies pn my own nature, in so. far as it possessed a 
cejrtain perfection, and, if they were false, that I help! them 
from nothing, that is to say, that they were in. me because of 
a certain iniperfectioq of my myture. But this could not be 
the case witrTthe" idea of a Naturemore perfect than myself; 
for to receive it from nothing was a thing manifestly impos 
sible; and, because it is not less repugnant that the more 
perfect should be an effect of, and dependence on the less 
perfect, than that something should proceed from nothing, 
it was equally impossible that I could hold it from myself: 
accordingly, it but remained that it had been fl^ Q ^ in mfr^ifr 
a Naturfi^which was in reality more perfgcj_tlian jnjng^and 
which even possessed within itself all the perfections of 
which I could form any idea ; that is to. say, in a single word, 
which was God. And to this I added that, since I knew spme 
perfections which I did not possess, I was not the only being 
in existence, (I will here, with your permission, freely vise 
the terms of the schools) ; but, on the contrary, that there 
was of necessity some other more perfect Being upon whom 
I was dependent, and from whom I had received all that I 
possessed; for if I had existed alone, and independently of 
every other being, so as to have had from myself all the 
perfection, however little, which I actually possessed, I 
should have been able, for the same reason, to have had 
from myself the whole remainder of perfection, of {he want 
of which I was conscious, and thus could of myself have be 
come infinite, eternal, immutable, omniscient, all-powerful, 
and, in fine, have possessed all the perfections which I could 
recognise in God. For in, order to know the nature of God, 
(whose existence has been established by the preceding 
reasonings,) as far as my own nature permitted, I had only 
to consider in reference to all the properties of which I 
found in my mind some idea, whether their possession was a 
mark of perfection; and I was assured that no one which 
indicated any imperfection was in him, and that none of the 



DISCOURSE ON METHOD 31 

rest was awanting. Thus I perceived that doubt, incon 
stancy, sadness, and such like, could not be found in God, 
since I myself would have been happy to be free from them. 
Besides, I had ideas of many sensible and corporeal things; 
for although I might suppose that I was dreaming, and that 
all which I saw or imagined was false, I could not, never 
theless, deny that the ideas were in reality in my thoughts. 
But, because I had already very clearly recognised in myself 
that the intelligent nature is distinct from the corporeal, and 
as I observed that all composition is an evidence of depend 
ency, and that a state of dependency is manifestly a state of 
imperfection, I therefore determined that it could not be a 
perfection in God to be compounded of these two natures, 
and that consequently he was not so compounded; but that 
if there were any bodies in the world, or even any intel 
ligences, or other natures that were not wholly perfect, their 
existence depended on his power in such a way that they 
could not subsist without him for a single moment. 

I was disposed straightway to search for other truths ; and 
when I had represented to myself the object of the 
geometers, which I conceived to be a continuous body, or a 
space indefinitely extended in length, breadth, and height or 
depth, divisible into divers parts which admit of different 
figures and sizes, and of being moved or transposed in all 
manner of ways, (for all this the geometers suppose to be 
in the object they contemplate,) I went over some of their 
simplest demonstrations. And, in the first place, I observed, 
that the great certitude which by common consent is ac 
corded to these demonstrations, is founded solely upon this, 
that they are clearly conceived in accordance with the rules 
I have already laid down. In the next place, I perceived 
that there was nothing at all in these demonstrations which 
could assure me of the existence of their object: thus, for 
example, supposing a triangle to be given, I distinctly per 
ceived that its three angles were necessarily equal to two 
right angles, but I did :iot on that account perceive any 
thing which could assure me that any triangle existed : while, 
on the contrary, recurring to the examination of the idea of 
a Perfect Being, I found that the existence of the Being was 
comprised in the idea in the same way that the equality of 



32 DESCARTES 

its three angles to two right angles is comprised in the idea 
of a triangle, or as in the idea of a sphere, the equidistance 
of all points on its surface from the centre, or even still 
more clearly; and that consequently it is at least as certain 
that God, who is this Perfect Being, is, or exists, as any 
demonstration of Geometry can be. 

But the reason which leads many to persuade themselves 
that there is a difficulty in knowing this truth, and even also 
in knowing what their mind really is, is that they never raise 
their thoughts above sensible objects, and are so accustomed 
to consider nothing except by way of imagination, which is 
a mode of thinking limited to material objects, that all that 
is not imaginable seems to them not intelligible. The truth 
of this is sufficiently manifest from the single circumstance, 
that the philosophers of the Schools accept as a maxim that 
there is nnfhjjTg 1<ri th p Understanding which was npJLpre- 
vmusly_jn the Senses, in which however it is certain that 
the ideas of God and of the soul have never been; and it 
appears to me that they who make use of their imagination 
to comprehend these ideas do exactly the same thing as if, 
in order to hear sounds or smell odours, they strove to avail 
themselves of their eyes; unless indeed that there is this 
difference, that the sense of sight does not afford us an 
inferior assurance to those of smell or hearing; in place of 
which, neither our imagination nor our senses can give us 
assurance of anything unless our Understanding intervene. 

Finally, if there be, still persons who are not sufficiently 
persuaded of the existence of God and of the soul, by the 
reasons I have adduced, I am desirous that they should know 
that all the other propositions, of the truth of which they 
deem themselves perhaps more assured, as that we have a 
body, and that there exist stars and an earth, and such like, 
are less certain ; for, although we have a moral assurance of 
these things, which is so strong that there is an appearance 
of extravagance in doubting of their existence, yet at the 
same time no one, unless his intellect is impaired, can deny, 
when the question relates to a metaphysical certitude, that 
there is sufficient reason to exclude entire assurance, in the 
observation that when asleep we can in the same way 
imagine ourselves possessed of another body and that we see 



DISCOURSE ON METHOD 33 

other stars and another earth, when there is nothing of the 
kind. For how do we know that the thoughts which occur 
in dreaming are false rather than those other which we 
experience when awake, since the former are often not less 
vivid and distinct than the latter? And though men of the 
highest genius study this question as long as they please, I 
do not believe that they will be able to give any reason which 
can be sufficient to remove this doubt, unless they presuppose 
the existence of God. For, in the first place, even the prin 
ciple which I have already taken as a rule, viz., that all the 
things which we clearly and distinctly conceive are true, is 
certain only because God is or exists, and because he is a 
Perfect Being, and because all that we possess is derived 
from him : whence it follows that our ideas or notions, which 
to the extent of their clearness and distinctness are real, 
and proceed from God, must to that extent be true. Accord 
ingly, whereas we not unfrequently have ideas or notions in 
which some falsity... is contained, this can only be the case 
with such as are to some extent confused and obscure, and 
in this proceed from nothing, (participate of negation,) that 
is, exist in us thus confused because \Y.e are not wholly per 
fect. And it is evident that it is not less repugnant that 
falsity or imperfection, in so far as it is imperfection, should 
proceed from God, than that truth or perfection should pro 
ceed from nothing. But if we did not know that all which 
we possess of real and true proceeds from a Perfect and 
Infinite Being, however clear and distinct our ideas might be, 
we should have no ground on that account for the assurance 
that they possessed the perfection of being true. 

But after the knowledge of God and of the soul has ren 
dered us certain of this rule, we can easily understand that 
the truth of the thoughts we experience when awake, ought 
not in the slightest degree to be called in question on account 
of the illusions of our dreams. For if it happened that an 
individual, even when asleep, had some very distinct idea, as, 
for example, if a geometer should discover some new demon 
stration, the circumstance of his being asleep would not 
militate against its truth ; and as for the most ordinary error 
of pur dreams, which consists in their representing to us 
various objects in the same way as our external senses, this 

HC xxxiv 



34 DESCARTES 

is not prejudicial, since it leads us very properly to suspect 
the truth of the ideas of sense; for we are not unfrequently 
deceived in the same manner when awake ; as when persons 
in the jaundice see all objects yellow, or when the stars 
or bodies at a great distance appear to us much smaller 
than they are. For, in fine, whether jiwake or asleep, w,.f. 
ought never to allowj3urselv^slto_j?e persuaded, of ..thfiJtruth 
r>! anything unless on the evidence of our Reason. And it 
must be noted that I say of our Reason, and not of our 
imagination or of our senses: thus, for example, although we 
very clearly see the sun, we ought not therefore to determine 
that it is only of the size which our sense of sight^ presents ; 
and we may very distinctly imagine the head of a lion joined 
to the body of a goat, without being therefore shut up to the 
conclusion that a chimsera exists ; for it is not 2. dictate of 
Reason that what we thus see or imagine is in reality 
existent; but it plainly tells us that all our ideas or notions 
contain in them some truth; for otherwise it could not be 
that God, who is wholly perfect and veracious, should have 
placed them in us. And because our reasonings are never 
so clear or so complete during sleep as when we are awake, 
although sometimes the acts of our imagination are then as 
lively and distinct, if not more so than in our waking 
moments, Reason further dictates that, since all our thoughts 
cannot be true because of our partial imperfection, those 
possessing truth must infallibly be found in the experience 
of our waking moments rather than in that of our dreams. 



PART V 

I WOULD here willingly have proceeded to exhibit the 
whole chain of truths which I deduced from these 
primary ; but as with a view to this it would have been 
necessary now to treat of many questions in dispute among 
the learned, with whom I do not wish to be embroiled, I be 
lieve that it will be better for me to refrain from this exposi 
tion, and only mention in general what these truths are, that 
the more judicious may be able to determine whether a more 
special account of them would conduce to the public ad 
vantage. I have ever remained firm in my original resolu 
tion to suppose no other principle than that of which I have 
recently availed myself in demonstrating the existence of 
God and of the soul, and to accept as true nothing that did 
not appear to me more clear and certain than the demonstra 
tions of the geometers had formerly appeared; and yet I 
venture to state that not only have I found means to satisfy 
myself in a short time on all the principal difficulties which 
are usually treated of in Philosophy, but I have also observed 
certain laws established in nature by God in such a manner, 
and of which he has impressed on our minds such notions, 
that after we have reflected sufficiently upon these, we can 
not doubt that they are accurately observed in all that exists 
or takes place in the world: and farther, by considering the 
concatenation of these laws, it appears to me that I have dis 
covered many truths more useful and more important than 
all I had before learned, or even had expected to learn. 

^ But because I have essayed to expound the chief of these 
discoveries in a Treatise whih certain considerations prevent 
me from publishing, I cannot make the results known more 
conveniently than by here giving a summary of the contents 
of this Treatise. It was my design to comprise in it all that, 
before I set myself to write it, I thought I knew of the nature 
of material objects. But like the painters who, finding them- 

35 



36 DESCARTES 

selves unable to represent equally well on a plain surface all 
the different faces of a solid body, select one of the chief, 
on which alone they make the light fall, and throwing the 
rest into the shade, allow them to appear only in so far as 
they can be seen while looking at the principal one ; so, fear 
ing lest I should not be able to comprise in my discourse all 
that was in my mind, I resolved to expound singly, though 
at considerable length, my opinions regarding light; then to 
take the opportunity of adding something on the sun and the 
fixed stars, since light almost wholly proceeds from them; 
on the heavens since they transmit it ; on the planets, comets, 
and earth, since they reflect it; and particularly on all the 
bodies that are upon the earth, since they are either coloured, 
or transparent, or luminous; and finally on man, since he is 
the spectator of these objects. Further, to enable me to cast 
this variety of subjects somewhat into the shade, and to ex 
press my judgment regarding them with greater freedom, 
without being necessitated to adopt or refute the opinions of 
the learned, I resolved to leave all the people here to their 
disputes, and to speak only of what would happen in a new 
world, if God were now to create somewhere in the imaginary 
spaces matter sufficient to compose one, and were to agitate 
variously and confusedly the different parts of this matter, 
so that there resulted a chaos as disordered as the poets ever 
feigned, and after that did nothing more than lend his or 
dinary concurrence to nature, and allow her to act in ac 
cordance with the laws which he had established. On this 
supposition, I, in the first place, described this matter, and 
essayed to represent it in such a manner that to my mind 
there can be nothing clearer and more intelligible, except 
what has been recently said regarding God and the soul; 
for I even expressly supposed that it possessed none of those 
forms or qualities which are so debated in the Schools, nor 
in general anything the knowledge of which is not so natural 
to our minds that no one can so much as imagine himself 
ignorant of it. Besides, I have pointed out what are the 
laws of nature; and, with no other principle upon which to 
found my reasonings except the infinite perfection of God, 
I endeavoured to demonstrate all those about which there 
could be any room for doubt, and to prove that they are 



DISCOURSE ON METHOD 37 

such, that even if God had created more worlds, there could 
have been none in which these laws were not observed. 
Thereafter, I showed how the greatest part of the matter 
of this chaos must, in accordance with these laws, dispose 
and arrange itself in such a way as to present the appearance 
of heavens; how in the meantime some of its parts must com 
pose an earth and some planets and comets, and others a 
sun and fixed stars. And, making a digression at this stage 
on the subject of light, I expounded at considerable length 
what the nature of that light must be which is found in the 
sun and the stars, and how thence in an instant of time it 
traverses the immense spaces of the heavens, and how from 
the planets and comets it is reflected towards the earth. To 
this I likewise added much respecting the substance, the 
situation, the motions, and all the different qualities of these 
heavens and stars; so that I thought I had said enough 
respecting them to show that there is nothing observable in 
the heavens or stars of our system that must not, or at least 
may not appear precisely alike in those of the system which 
I described. I came next to speak of the earth in particular, 
and to show how, even though I had expressly supposed that 
God had given no weight to the matter of which it is com 
posed, this should not prevent all its parts from tending 
exactly to its centre; how with water and air on its surface, 
the disposition of the heavens and heavenly bodies, more 
especially of the moon, must cause a flow and ebb, like in all 
its circumstances to that observed in our seas, as also a 
certain current both of water and air from east to west, 
such as is likewise observed between the tropics; how the 
mountains, seas, fountains, and rivers might naturally be 
formed in it, and the metals produced in the mines, and the 
plants grow in the fields ; and in general, how all the bodies 
which are commonly denominated mixed or composite might 
be generated: and, among other things in the discoveries 
alluded to, inasmuch as besides the stars, I knew nothing 
except fire which produces light, I spared no pains to set 
forth all that pertains to its nature, the manner of its pro 
duction and support, and to explain how heat is sometimes 
found without light, and light without heat; to show how it 
can induce various colours upon different bodies and other 



38 DESCARTES 

diverse qualities; how it reduces some to a liquid state and 
hardens others; how it can consume almost all bodies, or 
convert them into ashes and smoke; and finally, how from 
these ashes, by the mere intensity of its action, it forms 
glass : for as this transmutation of ashes into glass appeared 
to me as wonderful as any other in nature, I took a special 
pleasure in describing it. 

I was not, however, disposed, from these circumstances, 
to conclude that this world had been created in the manner 
I described; for it is much more likely that God made it at 
the first such as it was to be. But this is certain, and an 
opinion commonly received among theologians, that the 
action by which he now sustains it is the same with that by 
which he originally created it ; so that even although he had 
from the beginning given it no other form than that of 
chaos, provided cnly he had established certain laws of 
nature, and had le^t it his concurrence to enable it to act as 
it is wont to do, it may be believed, without discredit to the 
miracle of creation, that, in this way alone, things purely 
material might, in course of time, have become such as we 
observe them at present; and their nature is much more 
easily conceived when they are beheld coming in this manner 
gradually into existence, than when they are only considered 
as produced at once in a finished and perfect state. 

From the description of inanimate bodies and plants, I 
passed to animals, and particularly to man. But since I had 
not as yet sufficient knowledge to enable me to treat of these 
in the same manner as of the rest, that is to say, by deducing 
effects from their causes, and by showing from what ele 
ments and in what manner Nature must produce them, I 
remained satisfied with the supposition that God formed the 
body of man wholly like to one of ours, as well in the ex 
ternal shape of the members as in the internal conformation 
of the organs, of the same matter with that I had described, 
and at first placed in it no Rational Soul, nor any other prin 
ciple, in room of the Vegetative or Sensitive Soul, beyond 
kindling in the heart one of those fires without light, such as 
I had already described, and which I thought was not dif 
ferent from the heat in hay that has been heaped together 
before it is dry, or that which causes fermentation in new 



DISCOURSE ON METHOD 39 

wines before they are run clear of the fruit. For, when I 
examined the kind of functions which might, as consequences 
of this supposition, exist in this body, I found precisely all 
those which may exist in us independently of all power of 
thinking, and consequently without being in any measure 
owing to the soul ; in other words, to that part of us which is 
distinct from the body, and of which it has been said above 
that the nature distinctively consists in thinking, functions 
in which the animals void of Reason may be said wholly to 
resemble us; but among which I could not discover any of 
those that, as dependent on thought alone, belong to us as 
men, while, on the other hand, I did afterwards discover 
these as soon as I supposed God to have created a Rational 
Soul, and to have annexed it to this body in a particular 
manner which I described. 

But, in order to show how I there handled this matter, I 
mean here to give the explication of the motion of the heart 
and arteries, which, as the first and most general motion ob 
served in animals, will afford the means of readily deter 
mining what should be thought of all the rest. And that 
there may be less difficulty in understanding what I am 
about to say on this subject, I advise those who are not 
versed in Anatomy, before they commence the perusal of 
these observations, to take the trouble of getting dissected in 
their presence the heart of some large animal possessed of 
lungs, (for this is throughout sufficiently like the human,) 
and to have shewn to them its two ventricles or cavities: in 
the first place, that in the right side, with which correspond 
two very ample tubes, viz., the hollow vein, (vena cava,*) 
which is the principal receptacle of the blood, and the trunk 
of the tree, as it were, of which all the other veins in the 
body are branches; and the arterial vein, (vena arteriosa,} 
inappropriately so denominated, since it is in truth only an 
artery, which, taking its rise in the heart, is divided, after 
passing out from it, into many branches which presently 
disperse themselves all over the lungs; in the second place, 
the cavity in the left side, with which correspond in the 
same manner two canals in size equal to or larger than the 
preceding, viz., the venous artery, (arteria venosa,*) likewise 
inappropriately thus designated, because it is simply a vein 



40 DESCARTES 

which comes from the lungs, where it is divided into many 
branches, interlaced with those of the arterial vein, and 
those of the tube called the windpipe, through which the air 
we breathe enters ; and the great artery which, issuing from 
the heart, sends its branches all over the body. I should 
wish also that such persons were carefully shewn the eleven 
pellicles which, like so many small valves, open and shut the 
four orifices that are in these two cavities, viz., three at the 
entrance of the hollow vein, where they are disposed in such 
a manner as by no means to prevent the blood which it con 
tains from flowing into the right ventricle of the heart, and 
yet exactly to prevent its flowing out; three at the entrance 
to the arterial vein, which, arranged in a manner exactly the 
opposite of the former, readily permit the blood contained in 
this cavity to pass into the lungs, but hinder that contained in 
the lungs from returning to this cavity ; and, in like manner, 
two others at the mouth of the venous artery, which allow the 
blood from the lungs to flow into the left cavity of the heart, 
but preclude its return ; and three at the mouth of the great 
artery, which suffer the blood to flow from the heart, but 
prevent its reflux. Nor do we need to seek any other reason 
for the number of these pellicles beyond this that the orifice 
of the venous artery being of an oval shape from the nature 
of its situation, can be adequately closed with two, whereas 
the others being round are more conveniently closed with 
three. Besides, I wish such persons to observe that the 
grand artery and the arterial vein are of much harder and 
firmer texture than the venous artery and the hollow vein; 
and that the two last expand before entering the heart, and 
there form, as it were, two pouches denominated the auricles 
of the heart, which are composed of a substance similar to 
that of the heart itself; and that there is always more warmth 
in the heart than in any other part of the body; and, finally, 
that this heat is capable of causing any drop of blood that 
passes into the cavities rapidly to expand and dilate, just as 
all liquors do when allowed to fall drop by drop into a highly 
heated vessel. 

For, after these things, it is not necessary for me to say 
anything more with a view to explain the motion of the 
heart, except that when its cavities are not full of blood, into 



DISCOURSE ON METHOD 41 

these the blood of necessity flows, from the hollow vein 
into the right, and from the venous artery into the left; 
because these two vessels are always full of blood, and their 
orifices, which are turned towards the heart, cannot then be 
closed. But as soon as two drops of blood have thus passed, 
one into each of the cavities, these drops which cannot but be 
very large, because the orifices through which they pass are 
wide, and the vessels from which they come full of blood, 
are immediately rarefied, and dilated by the heat they meet 
with. In this way they cause the whole heart to expand, and 
at the same time press home and shut the five small valves 
that are at the entrances of the two vessels from which they 
flow, and thus prevent any more blood from coming down 
into the heart, and becoming more and more rarefied, they 
push open the six small valves that are in the orifices of the 
other two vessels, through which they pass out, causing in 
this way all the branches of the arterial vein and of the 
grand artery to expand almost simultaneously with the heart 
which immediately thereafter begins to contract, as do 
also the arteries, because the blood that has entered them has 
cooled, and the six small valves close, and the five of the 
hollow vein and of the venous artery open anew and allow 
a passage to other two drops of blood, which cause the heart 
and the arteries again to expand as before. And, because 
the blood which thus enters into the heart passes through 
these two pouches called auricles, it thence happens that their 
motion is the contrary of that of the heart, and that when it 
expands they contract. But lest those who are ignorant of 
the force of mathematical demonstrations, and who are not 
accustomed to distinguish true reasons from mere verisimili 
tudes, should venture, without examination, to deny what has 
been said, I wish it to be considered that the motion which 
I have now explained follows as necessarily from the very ar 
rangement of the parts, which may be observed in the heart by 
the eye alone, and from the heat which may be felt with the 
fingers, and from the nature of the blood as learned from ex 
perience, as does the motion of a clock from the power, the 
situation, and shape of its counter-weights and wheels. 

But if it be asked how it happens that the blood in the 
veins, flowing in this way continually into the heart, is not 



42 DESCARTES 

exhausted, and why the arteries do not become too full, 
since all the blood which passes through the heart flows into 
them, I need only mention in reply what has been written by 
a physician 5 of England, who has the honour of having 
broken the ice on this subject, and of having been the first 
to teach that there are many small passages at the extremities 
of the arteries, through which the blood received by them 
from the heart passes into the small branches of the veins, 
whence it again returns to the heart; so that its course 
amounts precisely to a perpetual circulation. Of this we have 
abundant proof in the ordinary experience of surgeons, who, 
by binding the arm with a tie of moderate straitness above 
the part where they open the vein, cause the blood to flow 
more copiously than it would have done without any ligature ; 
whereas quite the contrary would happen were they to bind 
it below ; that is, between the hand and the opening, or were 
to make the ligature above the opening very tight. For it is 
manifest that the tie, moderately straitened, while adequate 
to hinder the blood already in the arm from returning 
towards the heart by the veins, cannot on that account pre 
vent new blood from coming forward through the arteries, 
because these are situated below the veins, and their cover 
ings, from their greater consistency, are more difficult to 
compress; and also that the blood which comes from the 
heart tends to pass through them to the hand with greater 
force than it does to return from the hand to the heart 
through the veins. And since the latter current escapes 
from the arm by the opening made in one of the veins, there 
must of necessity be certain passages below the ligature, 
that is, towards the extremities of the arm through which it 
can come thither from the arteries. This physician likewise 
abundantly establishes what he has advanced respecting the 
motion of the blood, from the existence of certain pellicles, 
so disposed in various places along the course of the veins, 
in the manner of small valves, as not to permit the blood to 
pass from the middle of the body towards the extremities, 
but only to return from the extremities to the heart; and 
farther, from experience which shows that all the blood 
which is in the body may flow out of it in a very short time 

* Harvey. 



DISCOURSE ON METHOD 43 

through a single artery that has been cut, even although this 
had been closely tied in the immediate neighbourhood of the 
heart, and cut between the heart and the ligature, so as to 
prevent the supposition that the blood flowing out of it could 
come from any other quarter than the heart. 

But there are many other circumstances which evince that 
what I have alleged is the true cause of the motion of the 
blood : thus, in the first place, the difference that is observed 
between the blood which flows from the veins, and that from 
the arteries, can only arise from this, that being rarefied, 
and, as it were, distilled by passing through the heart, it is 
thinner, and more vivid, and warmer immediately after 
leaving the heart, in other words, when in the arteries, than 
it was a short time before passing into either, in other 
words, when it was in the veins; and if attention be given, 
it will be found that this difference is very marked only 
in the neighbourhood of the heart; and is not so evident 
in parts more remote from it. In the next place, the con 
sistency of the coats of which the arterial vein and the 
great artery are composed, sufficiently shows that the blood 
is impelled against them with more force than against the 
veins. And why should the left cavity of the heart and the 
great artery be wider and larger than the right cavity and 
the arterial vein, were it not that the blood of the venous 
artery, having only been in the lungs after it has passed 
through the heart, is thinner, and rarefies more readily, and 
in a higher degree, than the blood which proceeds imme 
diately from the hollow vein? And what can physicians 
conjecture from feeling the pulse unless they know that ac 
cording as the blood changes its nature it can be rarefied 
by the warmth of the heart, in a higher or lower degree, 
and more or less quickly than before? And if it be in 
quired how this heat is communicated to the other members, 
must it not be admitted that this is effected by means of the 
blood, which, passing through the heart, is there heated 
anew, and thence diffused over all the body? Whence it 
happens, that if the blood be withdrawn from any part, the 
heat is likewise withdrawn by the same means ; and although 
the heart were as hot as glowing iron, it would not be 
capable of warming the feet and hands as at present, unless 



44 DESCARTES 

it continually sent thither new blood. We likewise perceive 
from this, that the true use of respiration is to bring suffi 
cient fresh air into the lungs, to cause the blood which 
flows into them from the right ventricle of the heart, where 
it has been rarefied and, as it were, changed into vapours, 
to become thick, and to convert it anew into blood, before 
it flows into the left cavity, without which process it would 
be unfit for the nourishment of the fire that is there. This 
receives confirmation from the circumstance, that it is ob 
served of animals destitute of lungs that they have also but 
one cavity in the heart, and that in children who cannot 
use them while in the womb, there is a hole through which 
the blood flows from the hollow vein into the left cavity of 
the heart, and a tube through which it passes from the 
arterial vein into the grand artery without passing through 
the lung. In the next place, how could digestion be carried 
on in the stomach unless the heart communicated heat to it 
through the arteries, and along with this certain of the more 
fluid parts of the blood, which assists in the dissolution of 
the food that has been taken in? Is not also the operation 
which converts the juice of food into blood easily compre 
hended, when it is considered that it is distilled by passing 
and repassing through the heart perhaps more than one or 
two hundred times in a day? And what more need be ad 
duced to explain nutrition, and the production of the dif 
ferent humours of the body, beyond saying, that the force 
with which the blood, in being rarefied, passes from the 
heart towards the extremities of the arteries, causes certain 
of its parts to remain in the members at which they arrive, 
and there occupy the place of some others expelled by them ; 
and that according to the situation, shape, or smallness of 
the pores with which they meet, some rather than others 
flow into certain parts, in the same way that some sieves 
are observed to act, which, by being variously perforated, 
serve to separate different species of grain ? And, in the last 
place, what above all is here worthy of observation, is the 
generation of the animal spirits, which are like a very subtle 
wind, or rather a very pure and vivid flame which, con 
tinually ascending in great abundance from the heart to 
the brain, thence penetrates through the nerves into the 



DISCOURSE ON METHOD 45 

muscles, and gives motion to all the members; so that to 
account for other parts of the blood which, as most agitated 
and penetrating, are the fittest to compose these spirits, pro 
ceeding towards the brain, it is not necessary to suppose 
any other cause, than simply, that the arteries which carry 
them thither proceed from the heart in the most direct 
lines, and that, according to the rules of Mechanics, which 
are the same with those of Nature, when many objects tend 
at once to the same point where there is not sufficient room 
for all, (as is the case with the parts of the blood which 
flow forth from the left cavity of the heart and tend towards 
the brain,) the weaker and less agitated parts must neces 
sarily be driven aside from that point by the stronger which 
alone in this way reach it. 

I had expounded all these matters with sufficient minute 
ness in the Treatise which I formerly thought of publishing. 
And after these, I had shewn what must be the fabric of 
the nerves and muscles of the human body to give the 
animal spirits contained in it the power to move the mem 
bers, as when we see heads shortly after they have been 
struck off still move and bite the earth, although no longer 
animated ; what changes must take place in the brain to pro 
duce waking, sleep, and dreams ; how light, sounds, odours, 
tastes, heat, and all the other qualities of external objects 
impress it with different ideas by means of the senses; how 
hunger, thirst, and the other internal affections can likewise 
impress upon it divers ideas; what must be understood by 
the common sense (sensus communis) in which these ideas 
are received, by the memory which retains them, by the 
fantasy which can change them in various ways, and out of 
them compose new ideas, and which, by the same means, 
distributing the animal spirits through the muscles, can 
cause the members of such a body to move in as many dif 
ferent ways, and in a manner as suited, whether to the 
objects that are presented to its senses or to its internal 
affections, as can take place in our own case apart from the 
guidance of the will. Nor will this appear at all strange 
to those who are acquainted with the variety of movements 
performed by the different automata, or moving machines 
fabricated by human industry, and that with help of but 



46 DESCARTES 

few pieces compared with the great multitude of bones, 
muscles, nerves, arteries, veins, and other parts that are 
found in the body of each animal. Such persons will look 
upon this body as a machine made by the hands of God, 
which is incomparably better arranged, and adequate to 
movements more admirable than is any machine of human 
invention. And here I specially stayed to show that, were 
there such machines exactly resembling in organs and out 
ward form an ape or any other irrational animal, we could 
have no means of knowing that they were in any respect 
of a different nature from these animals ; but if there were 
machines bearing the image of our bodies, and capable of 
imitating our actions as far as it is morally possible, there 
would still remain two most certain tests whereby to know 
that they were not therefore really men. Of these the first 
is that they could never use words or other signs arranged 
in such a manner as is competent to us in order to declare 
our thoughts to others: for we may easily conceive a ma 
chine to be so constructed that it emits vocables, and even 
that it emits some correspondent to the action upon it of 
external objects which cause a change in its organs; for 
example, if touched in a particular place it may demand 
what we wish to say to it ; if in another it may cry out that 
it is hurt, and such like ; but not that it should arrange them 
variously so as appositely to reply to what is said in its pres 
ence, as men of the lowest grade of intellect can do. The 
second test is, that although such machines might execute 
many things with equal or perhaps greater perfection than 
any of us, they would, without doubt, fail in certain others 
from which it could be discovered that they did not act from 
knowledge, but solely from the disposition of their organs: 
for while Reason is an universal instrument that is alike 
available on every occasion, these organs, on the contrary, 
need a particular arrangement for each particular action; 
whence it must be morally impossible that there should 
exist in any machine a diversity of organs sufficient to en 
able it to act in all the occurrences of life, in the way in 
which our reason enables us to act. Again, by means of 
these two tests we may likewise know the difference be 
tween men and brutes. For it is highly deserving of re- 






DISCOURSE ON METHOD 47 

mark, that there are no men so dull and stupid, not even 
idiots, as to be incapable of joining together different words, 
and thereby constructing a declaration by which to make 
their thoughts understood; and that on the other hand, 
there is no other animal, however perfect or happily cir 
cumstanced which can do the like. Nor does this inability 
arise from want of organs: for we observe that mag 
pies and parrots can utter words like ourselves, and are 
yet unable to speak as we do, that is, so as to show 
that they understand what they say; in place of which 
men born deaf and dumb, and thus not less, but rather 
more than the brutes, destitute of the organs which others 
use in speaking, are in the habit of spontaneously inventing 
certain signs by which they discover their thoughts to those 
who, being usually in their company, have leisure to learn 
their language. And this proves not only that the brutes 
have less Reason than man, but that they have none at all : 
for we see that very little is required to enable a person to 
speak; and since a certain inequality of capacity is observable 
among animals of the same species, as well as among men, 
and since some are more capable of being instructed than 
others, it is incredible that the most perfect ape or parrot 
of its species, should not in this be equal to the most stupid 
infant of its kind, or at least to one that was crack-brained, 
unless the soul of brutes were of a nature wholly different 
from ours. And we ought not to confound speech with the 
natural movements which indicate the passions, and can be 
imitated by machines as well as manifested by animals; nor 
must it be thought with certain of the ancients, that the 
brutes speak, although we do not understand their language. 
For if such were the case, since they are endowed with 
many organs analogous to ours, they could as easily com 
municate their thoughts to us as to their fellows. It is 
also very worthy of remark, that, though there are many 
animals which manifest more industry than we in certain 
of their actions, the same animals are yet observed to show 
none at all in many others: so that the circumstance that 
they do better than we does not prove that they are en 
dowed with mind, for it would thence follow that they 
possessed greater Reason that any of us, and could sur 



48 DESCARTES 

pass us in all things ; on the contrary, it rather proves that 
they are destitute of Reason, and that it is Nature which 
acts in them according to the disposition of their organs: 
thus it is seen, that a clock composed only of wheels and 
weights can number the hours and measure time more 
exactly than we with all our skill. 

I had after this described the Reasonable Soul, and 
shewn that it could by no means be educed from the power 
of matter, as the other things of which I had spoken, but 
that it must be expressly created ; and that it is not sufficient 
that ^it be lodged in the human body exactly like a pilot in 
a ship, unless perhaps to move its members, but that it is 
necessary for it to be joined and united more closely to the 
body, in order to have sensations and appetites similar to 
ours, and thus constitute a real man. I here entered, in 
conclusion, upon the subject of the soul at considerable 
length, because it is of the greatest moment: for after the 
error of those who deny the existence of God, an error 
which I think I have already sufficiently refuted, there is 
none that is more powerful in leading feeble minds astray 
from the straight path of virtue than the supposition that 
the soul of the brutes is of the same nature with our own; 
and consequently that after this life we have nothing to 
hope for or fear, more than flies and ants; in place of 
which, when we know how far they differ we much better 
comprehend the reasons which establish that the soul is of 
a nature wholly independent of the body, and that conse 
quently it is not liable to die with the latter; and, finally, 
because no other causes are observed capable of destroying 
it, we are naturally led thence to judge that it is immortal. 



PART VI 

THREE years have now elapsed since I finished the 
Treatise containing all these matters; and I was beginning 
to revise it, with the view to put it into the hands of a 
printer, when I learned that persons to whom I greatly 
defer, and whose authority over my actions is hardly less 
influential than is my own Reason over my thoughts, had 
condemned a certain doctrine in Physics, published a short 
time previously by another individual, 9 to which I will not 
say that I adhered, but only that, previously to their cen 
sure, I had observed in it nothing which I could imagine 
to be prejudicial either to religion or to the state, and 
nothing therefore which would have prevented me from 
giving expression to it in writing, if Reason had persuaded 
me of its truth; and this led me to fear lest among my 
own doctrines likewise some one might be found in which 
I had departed from the truth, notwithstanding the great 
care I have always taken not to accord belief to new opinions 
of which I had not the most certain demonstrations, and not 
to give expression to aught that might tend to the hurt of 
any one. This has been sufficient to make me alter my 
purpose of publishing them; for although the reasons by 
which I had been induced to take this resolution were very 
strong, yet my inclination, which has always been hostile 
to writing books, enabled me immediately to discover other 
considerations sufficient to excuse me for not undertaking 
the task. And these reasons, on one side and the other, 
are such, that not only is it in some measure my interest 
here to state them, but that of the public, perhaps, to know 
them. 

I have never made much account of what has proceeded 
from my own mind; and so long as I gathered no other 
advantage from the Method I employ beyond satisfying my- 

Galileo. Tr. 



50 DESCARTES 

self on some difficulties belonging to the speculative sciences, 
or endeavouring to regulate my actions according to the 
principles it taught me, I never thought myself bound to 
publish anything respecting it. For in what regards man 
ners, every one is so full of his own wisdom, that there 
might be found as many reformers as heads, if any were 
allowed to take upon themselves the task of mending them, 
except those whom God has constituted the supreme rulers 
of his people, or to whom he has given sufficient grace and 
zeal to be prophets; and although my speculations greatly 
pleased myself, I believed that others had theirs, which 
perhaps pleased them still more. But as soon as I had 
acquired some general notions respecting Physics, and 
beginning to make trial of them in various particular dif 
ficulties, had observed how far they can carry us, and how 
much they differ from the principles that have been em 
ployed up to the present time, I believed that I could not 
keep them concealed without sinning grievously against 
the law by which we are bound to promote, as far as in 
us lies, the general good of mankind. For by them I per 
ceived it to be possible to arrive at knowledge highly use 
ful in life; and in room of the Speculative Philosophy 
usually taught in the Schools, to discover a Practical, 
by means of which, knowing the force and action of fire, 
water, air, the stars, the heavens, and all the other bodies 
that surround us, as distinctly as we know the various 
crafts of our artizans, we might also apply them in the 
same way to all the uses to which they are adapted, and 
thus render ourselves the lords and possessors of nature. 
And this is a result to be desired, not only in order to the 
invention of an infinity of arts, by which we might be 
enabled to enjoy without any trouble the fruits of the earth, 
and all its comforts, but also and especially for the preser 
vation of health, which is without doubt, of all the blessings 
of this life, the first and fundamental one; for the mind 
is so intimately dependent upon the condition and relation 
of the organs of the body, that if any means can ever be 
found to render men wiser and more ingenious than hither 
to, I believe that it is in Medicine they must be sought for. 
It is true that the science of Medicine, as it now exists, 



DISCOURSE ON METHOD 51 

contains few things whose utility is very remarkable: but 
without any wish to depreciate it, I am confident that there 
is no one, even among those whose profession it is, who 
does not admit that all at present known in it is almost 
nothing in comparison of what remains to be discovered; 
and that we could free ourselves from an infinity of mala 
dies of body as well as of mind, and perhaps also even 
from the debility of age, if we had sufficiently ample knowl 
edge of their causes, and of all the remedies provided for 
us by Nature. But since I designed to employ my whole 
life in the search after so necessary a Science, and since 
I had fallen in with a path which seems to me such, that if 
any one follow it he must inevitably reach the end desired, 
unless he be hindered either by the shortness of life or the 
want of experiments, I judged that there could be no more 
effectual provision against these two impediments than if 
I were faithfully to communicate to the public all the little 
I might myself have found, and incite men of superior 
genius to strive to proceed farther, by contributing, each 
according to his inclination and ability, to the experiments 
which it would be necessary to make, and also by informing 
the public of all they might discover, so that, by the last 
beginning where those before them had left off, and thus 
connecting the lives and labours of many, we might col 
lectively proceed much farther than each by himself could do. 
I remarked, moreover, with respect to experiments, that 
they become always more necessary the more one is ad 
vanced in knowledge; for, at the commencement, it is bet 
ter to make use only of what is spontaneously presented to 
our senses, and of which we cannot remain ignorant, pro 
vided we bestow on it any reflection, however slight, than 
to concern ourselves about more uncommon and recondite 
phenomena: the reason of which is, that the more uncom 
mon often only mislead us so long as the causes of the more 
ordinary are still unknown; and the circumstances upon 
which they depend are almost always so special and minute 
as to be highly difficult to detect. But in this I have adopted 
the following order : first, I have essayed to find in general 
the principles, or first causes of all that is or can be in 
the world, without taking into consideration for this end 



52 DESCARTES 

anything but God himself who has created it, and without 
educing them from any other source than from certain 
germs of truths naturally existing in our minds. In the 
second place, I examined what were the first and most 
ordinary effects that could be deduced from these causes; 
and it appears to me that, in this way, I have found heavens, 
stars, an earth, and even on the earth, water, air, fire] 
minerals, and some other things of this kind, which of all 
others are the most common and simple, and hence the 
easiest to know. Afterwards, when I wished to descend 
to the more particular, so many diverse objects presented 
themselves to me, that I believed it to be impossible for the 
human mind to distinguish the forms or species of bodies 
that are upon the earth, from an infinity of others which 
might have been, if it had pleased God to place them there, 
or consequently to apply them to our use, unless we rise 
to causes through their effects, and avail ourselves of many 
particular experiments. Thereupon, turning over in my 
mind all the objects that had ever been presented to my 
senses, I freely venture to state that I have never observed 
any which I could not satisfactorily explain by the principles 
I had discovered. But it is necessary also to confess that 
the power of nature is so ample and vast, and these prin 
ciples so simple and general, that I have hardly observed a 
single particular effect which I cannot at once recognise 
as capable of being deduced in many different modes from 
the principles, and that my greatest difficulty usually is to 
discover in which of these modes the effect is dependent 
upon them; for out of this difficulty I cannot otherwise 
extricate myself than by again seeking certain experiments, 
which may be such that their result is not the same, if it 
is in the one of these modes that we must explain it, as 
it would be if it were to be explained in the other. As 
to what remains, I am now in a position to discern, as I 
think, with sufficient clearness what course must be taken 
to make the majority of those experiments which may con 
duce to this end: but I perceive likewise that they are such 
and so numerous, that neither my hands nor my income, 
though it were a thousand times larger than it is, would 
be sufficient for them all; so that, according as hencefor- 



DISCOURSE ON METHOD 53 

ward I shall have the means of making more or fewer 
experiments, I shall in the same proportion make greater 
or less progress in the knowledge of nature. This was 
what I had hoped to make known by the Treatise I had 
written, and so clearly to exhibit the advantage that would 
thence accrue to the public, as to induce all who have the 
common good of man at heart, that is, all who are virtuous 
in truth, and not merely in appearance, or according to 
opinion, as well to communicate to me the experiments they 
had already made, as to assist me in those that remain to 
be made. 

But since that time other reasons have occurred to me, 
by which I have been led to change my opinion, and to think 
that I ought indeed to go on committing to writing all the 
results which I deemed of any moment, as soon as I should 
have tested their truth, and to bestow the same care upon 
them as I would have done had it been my design to publish 
them. This course commended itself to me, as well because 
I thus afforded myself more ample inducement to examine 
them thoroughly, for doubtless that is always more nar 
rowly scrutinized which we believe will be read by many, 
than that which is written merely for our private use, 
(and frequently what has seemed to me true when I first 
conceived it, has appeared false when I have set about com 
mitting it to writing;) as because I thus lost no opportunity 
of advancing the interests of the public, as far as in me 
lay, and since thus likewise, if my writings possess any 
value, those into whose hands they may fall after my death 
may be able to put them to what use they deem proper. 
But I resolved by no means to consent to their publication 
during my lifetime, lest either the oppositions or the con 
troversies to which they might give rise, or even the reputa 
tion, such as it might be, which they would acquire for 
me, should be any occasion of my losing the time that I 
had set apart for my own improvement. For though it 
be true that every one is bound to promote to the extent of 
his ability the good of others, and that to be useful to no 
one is really to be worthless, yet it is likewise true that our 
cares ought to extend beyond the present; and it is good 
to omit doing what might perhaps bring some profit to 



54 DESCARTES 

the living, when we have in view the accomplishment of 
other ends that will be of much greater advantage to 
posterity. And in truth, I am quite willing it should be 
known that the little I have hitherto learned is almost 
nothing in comparison with that of which I am ignorant, 
and to the knowledge of which I do not despair of being 
able to attain; for it is much the same with those who 
gradually discover truth in the Sciences, as with those 
who when growing rich find less difficulty in making great 
acquisitions, than they formerly experienced when poor 
in making acquisitions of much smaller amount. Or they 
may be compared to the commanders of armies, whose 
forces usually increase in proportion to their victories, 
and who need greater prudence to keep together the residue 
of their troops after a defeat than after a victory to take 
towns and proVinces. For he truly engages in battle who 
endeavors to surmount all the difficulties and errors which 
prevent him from reaching the knowledge of truth, and 
he is overcome in fight who admits a false opinion touch 
ing a matter of any generality and importance, and he re 
quires thereafter much more skill to recover his former 
position than to make gheat advances when once in posses 
sion of thoroughly ascertained principles. As for myself, 
if I have succeeded in discovering any truths in the Sciences, 
(and I trust that what is contained in this volume will 
show that I have found some,) I can declare that they are 
but the consequences and results of five or six principal 
difficulties which I have surmounted, and my encounters 
with which I reckoned as battles in which victory declared 
for me. I will not hesitate even to avow my belief that 
nothing further is wanting to enable me fully to realize 
my designs than to gain two or three similar victories; 
and that 5 I am not so far advanced in years but that, 
according to the ordinary course of nature, I may still 
have sufficient leisure for this end. But I conceive myself 
the more bound to husband the time that remains the greater 
my expectation of being able to employ it aright, and I 
should doubtless have much to rob me of it, were I to pub 
lish the principles of my Physics: for although they are 
almost all so evident that to assent to them no more is 



DISCOURSE ON METHOD 55 

needed than simply to understand them, and although there 
is not one of them of which I do not expect to be able to 
give demonstration, yet, as it is impossible that they can 
be in accordance with all the diverse opinions of others, I 
foresee that I should frequently be turned aside from my 
grand design, on occasion of the opposition which they 
would be sure to awaken. 

It may be said, that these oppositions would be useful 
both in making me aware of my errors, and, if my specu 
lations contain anything of value, in bringing others to a 
fuller understanding of it; and still farther, as many can 
see better than one, in leading others who are now begin 
ning to avail themselves of my principles, to assist me in 
turn with their discoveries. But though I recognise my 
extreme liability to error, and scarce ever trust to the first 
thoughts which occur to me, yet the experience I have had 
of possible objections to my views prevents me from antic 
ipating any profit from them. For I have already had 
frequent proof of the judgments, as well of those I esteemed 
friends, as of some others to whom I thought I was an 
object of indifference, and even of some whose malignity 
and envy would, I knew, determine them to endeavour to 
discover what partiality concealed from the eyes of my 
friends. But it has rarely happened that anything has 
been objected to me which I had myself altogether over 
looked, unless it were something far removed from the sub 
ject: so that I have never met with a single critic of my 
opinions who did not appear to me either less rigorous or 
less equitable than myself. And further, I have never 
observed that any truth before unknown has been brought 
to light by the disputations that are practised in the Schools ; 
for while each strives for the victory, each is much more 
occupied in making the best of mere verisimilitude, than in 
weighing the reasons on both sides of the question; and 
those who have been long good advocates are not afterwards 
on that account the better judges. 

As for the advantage that others would derive from the 
communication of my thoughts, it could not be very great; 
because I have not yet so far prosecuted them as that much 
does not remain to be added before they can be applied to 



56 DESCARTES 

practice. And I think I may say without vanity, that if 
there is any one who can carry them out that length, it must 
be myself rather than another : not that there may not be in 
the world many minds incomparably superior to mine, but 
because one cannot so well seize a thing and make it one s 
own, when it has been learned from another, as when one 
has himself discovered it. And so true is this of the present 
subject that, though I have often explained some of my 
opinions to persons of much acuteness, who, whilst I was 
speaking, appeared to understand them very distinctly, yet, 
when they repeated them, I have observed that they almost 
always changed them to such an extent that I could no 
longer acknowledge them as mine. I am glad, by the way, 
to take this opportunity of requesting posterity never to be 
lieve on hearsay that anything has proceeded from me which 
has not been published by myself; and I am not at all as 
tonished at the extravagances attributed to those ancient 
philosophers whose own writings we do not possess; whose 
thoughts, however, I do not on that account suppose to have 
been really absurd, seeing they were among the ablest men 
of their times, but only that these have been falsely repre 
sented to us. It is observable, accordingly, that scarcely in a 
single instance has any one of their disciples surpassed 
them ; and I am qiu te sure that the most devoted of the pres 
ent followers of Aristotle would think themselves happy if 
they had as much knowledge of nature as he possessed, were 
it even under the condition that they should never afterwards 
attain to higher. In this respect they are like the ivy which 
never strives to rise above the tree that sustains it, and 
which frequently even returns downwards when it has 
reached the top; for it seems to me that they also sink, in 
other words, render themselves less wise than they would be 
if they gave up study, who, not contented with knowing all 
that is intelligibly explained in their author, desire in addi 
tion to find in him the solution of many difficulties of which 
he says not a word, and never perhaps so much as thought. 
Their fashion of philosophizing, however, is well suited to 
persons whose abilities fall below mediocrity; for the ob 
scurity of the distinctions and principles of which they make 
use enables them to speak of all things with as much con- 



DISCOURSE ON METHOD 57 

fidence as if they really knew them, and to defend all that 
they say on any subject against the most subtle and 
skilful, without its being possible for any one to convict them 
of error. In this they seem to me to be like a blind man, 
who, in order to fight on equal terms with a person that sees, 
should have made him descend to the bottom of an intensely 
dark cave : and I may say that such persons have an interest 
in my refraining from publishing the principles of the 
Philosophy of which I make use; for, since these are of a 
kind the simplest and most evident, I should, by publishing 
them, do much the same as if I were to throw open the win 
dows, and allow the light of day to enter the cave into which 
the combatants had descended. But even superior men have 
no reason for any great anxiety to know these principles, for 
if what they desire is to be able to speak of all things, and 
to acquire a reputation for learning, they will gain their end 
more easily by remaining satisfied with the appearance of 
truth, which can be found without much difficulty in all sorts 
of matters, than by seeking the truth itself which unfolds 
itself but slowly and that only in some departments, while 
it obliges us, when we have to speak of others, freely to 
confess our ignorance. If, however, they prefer the knowl 
edge of some few truths to the vanity of appearing ignorant 
of none, as such knowledge is undoubtedly much to be pre 
ferred, and, if they choose to follow a course similar to 
mine, they do not require for this that I should say any 
thing more than I have already said in this Discourse. For 
if they are capable of making greater advancement than I 
have made, they will much more be able of themselves to 
discover all that I believe myself to have found; since as I 
have never examined aught except in order, it is certain that 
what yet remains to be discovered is in itself more difficult 
and recondite, than that which I have already been enabled 
to find, and the gratification would be much less in learning 
it from me than in discovering it for themselves. Besides 
this, the habit which they will acquire, by seeking first what 
is easy, and then passing onward slowly and step by step to 
the more difficult, will benefit them more than all my in 
structions. Thus, in my own case, I am persuaded that if I 
had been taught from my youth all the truths of which I 



58 DESCARTES 

have since sought out demonstrations, and had thus learned 
them without labour, I should never, perhaps, have known 
any beyond these ; at least, I should never have acquired the 
habit and the facility which I think I possess in always dis 
covering new truths in proportion as I give myself to the 
search. And, in a single word, if there is any work in the 
world which cannot be so well finished by another as by him 
who has commenced it, it is that at which I labour. 

It is true, indeed, as regards the experiments which may 
conduce to this end, that one man is not equal to the task of 
making them all ; but yet he can advantageously avail him 
self, in this work, of no hands besides his own, unless those 
of artisans, or parties of the same kind, whom he could 
pay, and whom the hope of gain (a means of great ef 
ficacy) might stimulate to accuracy in the performance of 
what was prescribed to them. For as to those who, through 
curiosity or a desire of learning, of their own accord, per 
haps, offer him their services, besides that in general their 
promises exceed their performance, and that they sketch out 
fine designs of /which not one is ever realized, they will, 
without doubt, expect to be compensated for their trouble 
by the explication of some difficulties, or, at least, by com 
pliments and useless speeches, in which he cannot spend any 
portion of his time without loss to himself. And as for the 
experiments that others have already made, even although 
these parties should be willing of themselves to communicate 
them to him, (which is what those who esteem them secrets 
will never do,) the experiments are, for the most part, ac 
companied with so many circumstances and superfluous ele 
ments, as to make it exceedingly difficult to disentangle the 
truth from its adjuncts; besides, he will find almost all of 
them so ill described, or even so false, (because those who 
made them have wished to see in them only such facts as 
they deemed conformable to their principles,) that, if in the 
entire number there should be some of a nature suited to his 
purpose, still their value could not compensate for the time 
that would be necessary to make the selection. So that if 
there existed any one whom we assuredly knew to be capa 
ble of making discoveries of the highest kind, and of the 
greatest possible utility to the public; and if all other men 



DISCOURSE ON METHOD 59 

were therefore eager by all means to assist him In success 
fully prosecuting his designs, I do not see that they could 
do aught else for him beyond contributing to defray the ex 
penses of the experiments that might be necessary; and for 
the rest, prevent his being deprived of his leisure by the un 
seasonable interruptions of any one. But besides that I 
neither have so high an opinion of myself as to be willing 
to make promise of anything extraordinary, nor feed on 
imaginations so vain as to fancy that the public must be much 
interested in my designs ; I do not, on the other hand, own a 
soul so mean as to be capable of accepting from any one a 
favour of which it could be supposed that I was unworthy. 
These considerations taken together were the reason why, 
for the last three years, I have been unwilling to publish the 
Treatise I had on hand, and why I even resolved to give 
publicity during my life to no other that was so general, or 
by which the principles of my Physics might be understood. 
But since then, two other reasons have come into operation 
that have determined me here to subjoin some particular 
specimens, and give the public some account of my doings 
and designs. Of these considerations, the first is, that if I 
failed to do so, many who were cognizant of my previous 
intention to publish some writings, might have imagined that 
the reasons which induced me to refrain from so doing, were 
less to my credit than they really are ; for although I am not 
immoderately desirous of glory, or even, if I may venture so 
to say, although I am averse from it in so far as I deem it 
hostile to repose which I hold in greater account than aught 
else, yet, at the same time, I have never sought to conceal 
my actions as if they were crimes, nor made use of many 
precautions that I might remain unknown; and this partly 
because I should have thought such a course of conduct a 
wrong against myself, and partly because it would have 
occasioned me some sort of uneasiness which would again 
have been contrary to the perfect mental tranquillity which I 
court. And forasmuch as, while thus indifferent to the 
thought alike of fame or of forget fulness, I have yet been 
unable to prevent myself from acquiring some sort of reputa 
tion, I have thought it incumbent on me to do my best to 
save myself at least from being ill-spoken of. The other 



60 DESCARTES 

reason that has determined me to commit to writing these 
specimens of philosophy is, that I am becoming daily more 
and more alive to the delay which my design of self-instruc 
tion suffers, for want of the infinity of experiments I re 
quire, and which it is impossible for me to make without the 
assistance of others : and, without flattering myself so much 
as to expect the public to take a large share in my interests, 
I am yet unwilling to be found so far wanting in the duty 
I owe to myself, as to give occasion to those who shall sur 
vive me to make it matter of reproach against me some day, 
that I might have left them many things in a much more 
perfect state than I have done, had I not too much neglected 
to make them aware of the ways in which they could have 
promoted the accomplishment of my designs. 

And I thought that it was easy for me to select some 
matters which should neither be obnoxious to much contro 
versy, nor should compel me to expound more of my prin 
ciples than I desired, and which should yet be sufficient 
clearly to exhibit what I can or cannot accomplish in the 
Sciences. Whether or not I have succeeded in this it is not 
for me to say; and I do not wish to forestall the judgments 
of others by speaking myself of my writings; but it will 
gratify me if they be examined, and, to afford the greater 
inducement to this, I request all who may have any objec 
tions to make to them, to take the trouble of forwarding 
these to my publisher, who will give me notice of them, 
that I may endeavour to subjoin at the same time my reply; 
and in this way readers seeing both at once will more easily 
determine where the truth lies; for I do not engage in any 
case to make prolix replies, but only with perfect frankness 
to avow my errors if I am convinced of them, or if I can 
not perceive them, simply to state what I think is required 
for defence of the matters I have written, adding thereto 
no explication of any new matter that it may not be neces 
sary to pass without end from one thing to another. 

If some of the matters of which I have spoken in the be 
ginning of the Dioptrics and Meteorics should offend at first 
sight, because I call them hypotheses and seem indifferent 
about giving proof of them, I request a patient and attentive 
reading of the whole, from which I hope those hesitating 






DISCOURSE ON METHOD 61 

will derive satisfaction ; for it appears to me that the reason 
ings are so mutually connected in these Treatises, that, as the 
last are demonstrated by the first which are their causes, 
the first are in their turn demonstrated by the last which are 
their effects. Nor must it be imagined that I here commit 
the fallacy which the logicians call a circle; for since ex 
perience renders the majority of these effects most certain, 
the causes from which I deduce them do not serve so much 
to establish their reality as to explain their existence ; but on 
the contrary, the reality of the causes is established by the 
reality of the effects. Nor have I called them hypotheses 
with any other end in view except that it may be known 
that I think I am able to deduce them from those first truths 
which I have already expounded; and yet that I have ex 
pressly determined not to do so, to prevent a certain class of 
minds from thence taking occasion to build some extravagant 
Philosophy upon what they may take to be my principles, and 
my being blamed for it. I refer to those who imagine that 
they can master in a day all that another has taken twenty 
years to think out, as soon as he has spoken two or three 
words to them on the subject; or who are the more liable to 
error and the less capable of perceiving truth in very pro 
portion as they are more subtle and lively. As to the opin 
ions which are truly and wholly mine, I offer no apology 
for them as new, persuaded as I am that if their reasons 
be well considered they will be found to be so simple and so 
conformed to common sense as to appear less extraordinary 
and less paradoxical than any others which can be held on 
the same subjects; nor do I even boast of being the earliest 
discoverer of any of them, but only of having adopted them, 
neither because they had nor because they had not been held 
by others, but solely because Reason has convinced me of 
their truth. 

Though artisans may not be able at once to execute the 
invention which is explained in the Dioptrics, I do not think 
that any one on that account is entitled to condemn it; for 
since address and practice are required in order so to make 
and adjust the machines described by me as not to overlook 
the smallest particular, I should not be less astonished if they 
succeeded on the first attempt than if a person were in one 



62 DISCOURSE ON METHOD 

day to become an accomplished performer on the guitar, by 
merely having excellent sheets of music set up before him. 
And if I write in French, which is the language of my 
country, in preference to Latin, which Is that of my precep 
tors, it is because I expect that those who make use of their 
unprejudiced natural Reason will be better judges of my 
opinions than those who give heed to the writings of the 
ancients only; and as for those who unite good sense with 
habits of study, whom alone I desire for judges, they will 
not, I feel assured, be so partial to Latin as to refuse to listen 
to my reasonings merely because I expound them in the 
vulgar Tongue. 

In conclusion, I am unwilling here to say anything very 
specific of the progress which I expect to make for the future 
in the Sciences, or to bind myself to the public by any prom 
ise which I am not certain of being able to fulfil; but this 
only will I say, that I have resolved to devote what time I 
may still have to live to no other occupation than that of 
endeavouring to acquire some knowledge of Nature, which 
shall be of such a kind as to enable us therefrom to deduce 
rules in Medicine of greater certainty than those at present 
in use ; and that my inclination is so much opposed to all other 
pursuits, especially to such as cannot be useful to some with 
out being hurtful to others, that if, by any circumstances, I 
had been constrained to engage in such, I do not believe 
that I should have been able to succeed. Of this I here make 
a public declaration, though well aware that it cannot serve 
to procure for me any consideration in the world, which, 
however, I do not in the least affect ; and I shall always hold 
myself more obliged to those through whose favour I am 
permitted to enjoy my retirement without interruption than 
to any who might offer me the highest earthly preferments. 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 
(LETTRES PHILOSOPHISES) 



BY 
VOLTAIRE 



INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

FRANCOIS-MARIE AROUET, known by his assumed name of 
Voltaire, was born at Paris, November 21, 1694. His father 
was a well-to-do notary, and Frangois was educated under the 
Jesuits in the College Louis-le-Grand. He began writing verse 
early, and was noted for his freedom of speech, a tendency 
which led to his being twice exiled from Paris and twice im 
prisoned in the Bastile. In 1726 he took refuge in England, 
and the two years spent there had great influence upon his later 
development. Some years after his return he became historiog 
rapher of France, and gentleman of the king s bedchamber; 
from 1750 to 1753 he lived at the court of Frederick the Great, 
with whom he ultimately quarreled ; and he spent the last period 
of his life, from 1758 to 1778, on his estate of Ferney, near 
Geneva, where he produced much of his best work. He died 
at Paris, May 30, 1778. 

It will be seen that Voltaire s active life covers nearly the 
whole eighteenth century, of which he was the dominant and 
typical literary figure. Every department of letters then in vogue 
was cultivated by him; in all he showed brilliant powers; and 
in several he reached all but the highest rank. Apart from his 
"Henriade," an epic on the classical model, and the burlesque 
"La Pucelle," most of his verse belongs to the class of satire, 
epigram, and vers de socicte. Of real poetical quality it has 
little, but abundant technical cleverness. For the stage he was 
the most prominent writer of the time, his most successful 
dramas including "Zaire" "CEdipe," "La Mort de Cesar," 
"Alzire," and "Merope." His chief contribution in this field 
was the development of the didactic and philosophic element. 
In prose fiction he wrote "Zadig," "Candide," and many ad 
mirable short stories; in history, his "Age of Louis XIV" is 
only the best known of four or five considerable works; in 
criticism, his commentary on Corneille is notable. His scien 
tific and philosophic interests are to some extent indicated in 
the following "Letters," which also show his admiration for the 
tolerance and freedom of speech in England, which it was his 
greatest service to strive to introduce into his own country. 

64 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 

(LETTRES PHILOSOPHIQUES) 

LETTER I 
ON THE QUAKERS 

I WAS of opinion that the doctrine and history of so 
extraordinary a people were worthy the attention of 
the curious. To acquaint myself with them I made a 
visit to one of the most eminent Quakers in England, who, 
after having traded thirty years, had the wisdom to prescribe 
limits to his fortune and to his desires, and was settled in 
a little solitude not far from London. Being come into it, 
I perceived a small but regularly built house, vastly neat, 
but without the least pomp of furniture. The Quaker who 
owned it was a hale, ruddy complexioned old man, who had 
never been afflicted with sickness because he had always 
been insensible to passions, and a perfect stranger to intem 
perance. I never in my life saw a more noble or a more 
engaging aspect than his. He was dressed like those of his 
persuasion, in a plain coat without pleats in the sides, or 
buttons on the pockets and sleeves ; and had on a beaver, the 
brims of which were horizontal like those of our clergy. 
He did not uncover himself when I appeared, and advanced 
towards me without once stooping his body; but there ap 
peared more politeness in the open, humane air of his 
countenance, than in the custom of drawing one leg behind 
the other, and taking that from the head which is made to 
cover it. "Friend," says he to me, "I perceive thou art a 
stranger, but if I can do any thing for thee, only tell me." 
"Sir," said I to him, bending forwards and advancing, as is 
usual with us, one leg towards him, "I flatter myself that 
my just curiosity will not give you the least offense, and that 
(c) 65 HC xxxiv 



65 VOLTAIRE 

you ll do me the honour to inform me of the particulars of 
your religion." "The people of thy country," replied the 
Quaker, "are too full of their bows and compliments, but 
I never yet met with one of them who had so much curiosity 
as thy self. Come in, and let us first dine together." I still 
continued to make some very unseasonable ceremonies, it 
not being easy to disengage one s self at once from habits 
we have been long used to ; and after taking part in a frugal 
meal, which began and ended with a prayer to God, I began 
to question my courteous host. I opened with that which 
good Catholics have more than once made to Huguenots. 
" My dear sir/ said I, " were you ever baptised? " " I never 
was," replied the Quaker, "nor any of my brethren." 
" Zounds ! " said I to him, " you are not Christians, then." 
" Friend," replies the old man in a soft tone of voice, " swear 
not; we are Christians, and endeavour to be good Christians, 
but we are not of opinion that the sprinkling water on a 
child s head makes him a Christian." " Heavens ! " said I, 
shocked at his impiety, "you have then forgot that Christ 
was baptised by St. John." "Friend," replies the mild 
Quaker once again, " swear not ; Christ indeed was baptised 
by John, but He himself never baptised anyone. We are 
the disciples of Christ, not of John." I pitied very much 
the sincerity of my worthy Quaker, and was absolutely for 
forcing him to get himself christened. "Were that all," 
replied he very gravely, "we would submit cheerfully to 
baptism, purely in compliance with thy weakness, for we 
don t condemn any person who uses it; but then we think 
that those who profess a religion of so holy, so spiritual a 
nature as that of Christ, ought to abstain to the utmost of 
their power from the Jewish ceremonies." "O unaccount 
able ! " said I : " what ! baptism a Jewish ceremony ? " " Yes, 
my friend," says he, "so truly Jewish, that a great many 
Jews use the baptism of John to this day. Look into an 
cient authors, and thou wilt find that John only revived this 
practice; and that it had been used by the Hebrews, long 
before his time, in like manner as the Mahometans imitated 
the Ishmaelites in their pilgrimages to Mecca. Jesus indeed 
submitted to the baptism of John, as He had suffered Him 
self to be circumcised; but circumcision and the washing 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 67 

with water Jght to be abolished by the baptism of Christ, 
that baptism of the Spirit, that ablution of the soul, which 
is the salvation of mankind. Thus the forerunner said, I 
indeed baptise you with water unto repentance; but He that 
cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not 
worthy to bear: He shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost 
and with fire/ Likewise Paul, the great apostle of the Gen 
tiles, writes as follows to the Corinthians, Christ sent me 
not to baptise, but to preach the Gospel ; and indeed Paul 
never baptised but two persons with water, and that very 
much against his inclinations. He circumcised his disciple 
Timothy, and the other disciples likewise circumcised all 
who were willing to submit to that carnal ordinance. " But 
art thou circumcised ? " added he. " I have not the honour 
to be so," said I. " Well, friend," continued the Quaker, 
" thou art a Christian without being circumcised, and I am 
one without being baptised." Thus did this pious man make 
a wrong, but very specious application of four or five texts 
of Scripture which seemed to favour the tenets of his sect; 
but at the same time forgot very sincerely a hundred texts 
which made directly against them. I had more sense than to 
contest with him, since there is no possibility of convincing 
an enthusiast. A man should never pretend to inform a 
lover of his mistress s faults, no more than one who is at 
law of the badness of his cause ; nor attempt to win over a 
fanatic by strength of reasoning. Accordingly I waived the 
subject. 

"Well," said I to him, "what sort of a communion have 
you ? " " We have none like that thou hintest at among 
us," replied he. " How ! no communion ? " said I. " Only 
that spiritual one," replied he, "of hearts." He then began 
again to throw out his texts of Scripture; and preached a 
most eloquent sermon against that ordinance. He harangued 
in a tone as though he had been inspired, to prove that the 
sacraments were merely of human invention, and that the 
word " sacrament " was not once mentioned in the Gospel. 
" Excuse," said he, " my ignorance, for I have not employed 
a hundredth part of the arguments which might be brought 
to prove the truth of our religion, but these thou thyself 
mayest peruse in the Exposition of our Faith written by 



68 VOLTAIRE 

Robert Barclay. It is one of the best pieces that ever was 
penned by man; and as our adversaries confess it to be of 
dangerous tendency, the arguments in it must necessarily 
be very convincing." I promised to peruse this piece, and 
my Quaker imagined he had already made a convert of me. 
He afterwards gave me an account in few words of some 
singularities which make this sect the contempt of others. 
" Confess," said he, " that it was very difficult for thee to 
refrain from laughter, when I answered all thy civilities 
without uncovering my head, and at the same time said 
thee and thou * to thee. However, thou appearest to me 
too well read not to know that in Christ s time no nation was 
so ridiculous as to put the plural number for the singular. 
Augustus Caesar himself was spoken to in such phrases as 
these: I love thee/ I beseech thee/ I thank thee/ but 
he did not allow any person to call him Domine/ sir. It 
was not till many ages after that men would have the word 
you/ as though they were double, instead of thou em 
ployed in speaking to them ; and usurped the flattering titles 
of lordship, of eminence, and of holiness, which mere worms 
bestow on other worms by assuring them that they are with 
a most profound respect, and an infamous falsehood, their 
most obedient humble servants. It is to secure ourselves 
more strongly from such a shameless traffic of lies and 
flattery, that we thee and thou a king with the same 
freedom as we do a beggar, and salute no person ; we owing 
nothing to mankind but charity, and to the laws respect and 
obedience. 

" Our apparel is also somewhat different from that of 
others, and this purely, that it may be a perpetual warning 
to us not to imitate them. Others wear the badges and 
marks of their several dignities, and we those of Christian 
humility. We fly from all assemblies of pleasure, from di 
versions of every kind, and from places where gaming is 
practised; and, indeed, our case would be very deplorable, 
should we fill with such levities as those I have mentioned 
the heart which ought to be the habitation of God. We 
never swear, not even in a court of justice, being of opinion 
that the most holy name of God ought not to be prostituted 
in the miserable contests betwixt man and man. When we 






LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 69 

are obliged to appear before a magistrate upon other people s 
account (for lawsuits are unknown among the Friends), 
we give evidence to the truth by sealing it with our yea or 
nay; and the judges believe us on our bare affirmation, 
whilst so many other Christians forswear themselves on 
the holy Gospels. We never war or fight in any case; but 
it is not that we are afraid, for so far from shuddering at 
the thoughts of death, we on the contrary bless the moment 
which unites us with the Being of Beings; but the reason 
of our not using the outward sword is, that we are neither 
wolves, tigers, nor mastiffs, but men and Christians. Our 
God, who has commanded us to love our enemies, and to 
suffer without repining, would certainly not permit us to 
cross the seas, merely because murderers clothed in scarlet, 
and wearing caps two foot high, enlist citizens by a noise 
made with two little sticks on an ass s skin extended. And 
when, after a victory is gained, the whole city of London 
is illuminated; when the sky is in a blaze with fireworks, 
and a noise is heard in the air, of thanksgivings, of bells, 
of organs, and of the cannon, we groan in silence, and are 
deeply affected with sadness of spirit and brokenness of 
heart, for the sad havoc which is the occasion of those public 
rejoicings." 

LETTER II 
ON THE QUAKERS 

SUCH was the substance of the conversation I had with 
this very singular person; but I was greatly surprised to 
see him come the Sunday following and take me with him 
to the Quakers meeting. There are several of these in 
London, but that which he carried me to stands near the 
famous pillar called The Monument. The brethren were 
already assembled at my entering it with my guide. There 
might be about four hundred men and three hundred women 
in the meeting. The women hid their faces behind their 
fans, and the men were covered with their broad-brimmed 
hats. All were seated, and the silence was universal. I 
passed through them, but did not perceive so much as one 
lift up his eyes to look at me. This silence lasted a quarter 



70 VOLTAIRE 

of an hour, when at last one of them rose up, took off his 
hat, and, after making a variety of wry faces and groaning 
in a most lamentable manner, he, partly from his nose and 
partly from his mouth, threw out a strange, confused jumble 
of words (borrowed, as he imagined, from the Gospel) 
which neither himself nor any of his hearers understood. 
When this distorter had ended his beautiful soliloquy, and 
that the stupid, but greatly edified, congregation were 
separated, I asked my friend how it was possible for the 
judicious part of their assembly to suffer such a babbling? 
"We are obliged," said he, "to suffer it, because no one 
knows when a man rises up to hold forth whether he will 
be moved by the Spirit or by folly. In this doubt and un 
certainty we listen patiently to everyone ; we even allow our 
women to hold forth. Two or three of these are often in 
spired at one and the same time, and it is then that a most 
charming noise is heard in the Lord s house." " You have, 
then, no priests ? " said I to him. " No, no, friend," replies 
the Quaker, "to our great happiness." Then opening one 
of the Friends books, as he called it, he read the following 
words in an emphatic tone : " God forbid we should pre 
sume to ordain anyone to receive the Holy Spirit on the 
Lord s Day to the prejudice of the rest of the brethren/ 
Thanks to the Almighty, we are the only people upon earth 
that have no priests. Wouldst thou deprive us of so happy 
a distinction? Why should we abandon our babe to mer 
cenary nurses, when we ourselves have milk enough for it? 
These mercenary creatures would soon domineer in our 
houses and destroy both the mother and the babe. God has 
said, Freely you have received, freely give. Shall we, 
after these words, cheapen, as it were, the Gospel, sell the 
Holy Ghost, and make of an assembly of Christians a mere 
shop of traders? We don t pay a set of men clothed in black 
to assist our poor, to bury our dead, or to preach to the 
brethren. These offices are all of too tender a nature for us 
ever to entrust them to others." " But how is it possible for 
you," said I, with some warmth, "to know whether your 
discourse is really inspired by the Almighty?" "Whoso 
ever," says he, " shall implore Christ to enlighten him, and 
shall publish the Gospel truths, he may feel inwardly, such 






LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 71 

a one may be assured that he is inspired by the Lord." He 
then poured forth a numberless multitude of Scripture texts 
which proved, as he imagined, that there is no such thing 
as Christianity without an immediate revelation, and added 
these remarkable words: "When thou movest one of thy 
limbs, is it moved by thy own power? Certainly not; for 
this limb is often sensible to involuntary motions. Conse 
quently He who created thy body gives motion to this earthly 
tabernacle. And are the several ideas of which thy soul 
receives the impression formed by thyself? Much less are 
they, since these pour in upon thy mind whether thou wilt 
or no ; consequently thou receivest thy ideas from Him who 
created thy soul. But as He leaves thy affections at full 
liberty, He gives thy mind such ideas as thy affections may 
deserve; if thou livest in God, thou actest, thou thinkest in 
God. After this thou needest only but open thine eyes to 
that light which enlightens all mankind, and it is then thou 
wilt perceive the truth, and make others perceive it." "Why, 
this/ said I, " is Malebranche s doctrine to a tittle." " I am 
acquainted with thy Malebranche," said he ; " he had some 
thing of the Friend in him, but was not enough so." These 
are the most considerable particulars I learned concerning 
the doctrine of the Quakers. In my next letter I shall 
acquaint you with their history, which you will find more 
singular than their opinions, 



LETTER III 
ON THE QUAKERS 

You have already heard that the Quakers date from 
Christ, who, according to them, was the first Quaker. Reli 
gion, say these, was corrupted a little after His death, and 
remained in that state of corruption about sixteen hundred 
years. But there were always a few Quakers concealed in 
the world, who carefully preserved the sacred fire, which 
was extinguished in all but themselves, until at last this 
light spread itself in England in 1642. 

It was at the time when Great Britain was torn to pieces 
by the intestine wars which three or four sects had raised 



72 VOLTAIRE 

in the name of God, that one George Fox, born in Leicester 
shire, and son to a silk weaver, took it into his head to 
preach, and, as he pretended, with all the requisites of a 
true apostle that is, without being able either to read or 
write. He was about twenty-five years of age, irreproach 
able in his life and conduct, and a holy madman. He was 
equipped in leather from head to foot, and travelled from 
one village to another, exclaiming against war and the 
clergy. Had his invectives been levelled against the soldiery 
only he would have been safe enough, but he inveighed 
against ecclesiastics. Fox was seized at Derby, and being 
carried before a justice of peace, he did not once offer to 
pull off his leathern hat, upon which an officer gave him a 
great box of the ear, and cried to him, " Don t you know 
you are to appear uncovered before his worship ? " Fox 
presented his other cheek to the officer, and begged him to 
give him another box for God s sake. The justice would 
have had him sworn before he asked him any questions. 
" Know, friend," says Fox to him, " that I never swear." 
The justice, observing he " thee d " and " thou d " him, sent 
him to the House of Correction, in Derby, with orders that 
he should be whipped there. Fox praised the Lord all the 
way he went to the House of Correction, where the justice s 
order was executed with the utmost severity. The men 
who whipped this enthusiast were greatly surprised to hear 
him beseech them to give him a few more lashes for the 
good of his soul. There was no need of entreating these 
people; the lashes were repeated, for which Fox thanked 
them very cordially, and began to preach. At first the spec 
tators fell a-laughing, but they afterwards listened to him; 
and as enthusiasm is an epidemical distemper, many were 
persuaded, and those who scourged him became his first 
disciples. Being set at liberty, he ran up and down the 
country with a dozen proselytes at his heels, still declaiming 
against the clergy, and was whipped from time to time. 
Being one day set in the pillory, he harangued the crowd in 
so strong and moving a manner, that fifty of the auditors 
became his converts, and he won the rest so much in his 
favour that, his head being freed tumultuously from the 
hole where it was fastened, the populace went and searched 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 73 

for the Church of England clergyman who had been chiefly 
instrumental in bringing him to this punishment, and set 
him on the same pillory where Fox had stood. 

Fox was bold enough to convert some of Oliver Crom 
well s soldiers, who thereupon quitted the service and re 
fused to take the oaths. Oliver, having as great a contempt 
for a sect which would not allow its members to fight, as 
Sixtus Quintus had for another sect, Dove non si chiavava* 
began to persecute these new converts. The prisons were 
crowded with them, but persecution seldom has any other 
effect than to increase the number of proselytes. These 
came, therefore, from their confinement more strongly con 
firmed in the principles they had imbibed, and followed by 
their gaolers, whom they had brought over to their belief. 
But the circumstances which contributed chiefly to the 
spreading of this sect were as follows: Fox thought him 
self inspired, and consequently was of opinion that he must 
speak in a manner different from the rest of mankind. He 
thereupon began to writhe his body, to screw up his face, 
to hold in his breath, and to exhale it in a forcible manner, 
insomuch that the priestess of the Pythian god at Delphos 
could not have acted her part to better advantage. Inspira 
tion soon became so habitual to him that he could scarce 
deliver himself in any other manner. This was the first gift he 
communicated to his disciples. These aped very sincerely their 
master s several grimaces, and shook in every limb the instant 
the fit of inspiration came upon them, whence they were called 
Quakers. The vulgar attempted to mimic them ; they trembled, 
they spake through the nose, they quaked and fancied them 
selves inspired by the Holy Ghost. The only thing now want 
ing was a few miracles, and accordingly they wrought some. 

Fox, this modern patriarch, spoke thus to a justice of 
peace before a large assembly of people: " Friend, take care 
what thou dost ; God will soon punish thee for persecuting 
His saints." This magistrate, being one who besotted him 
self every day with bad beer and brandy, died of an apoplexy 
two days after, the moment he had signed a mittimus for 
imprisoning some Quakers. The sudden death with which 
this justice was seized was not ascribed to his intemperance ; 

111 Where there were no clandestine doings." 



74 VOLTAIRB 

but was universally looked upon as the effect of the holy 
man s predictions; so that this accident made more converts 
to Quakerism than a thousand sermons and as many shaking 
fits could have done. Oliver, finding them increase daily, 
was desirous of bringing them over to his party, and for 
that purpose attempted to bribe them by money. However, 
they were incorruptible, which made him one day declare 
that this religion was the only one he had ever met with that 
had resisted the charms of gold. 

The Quakers were several times persecuted under Charles 
II.; not upon a religious account, but for refusing to pay 
the tithes, for "theeing" and "thouing" the magistrates, 
and for refusing to take the oaths enacted by the laws. 

At last Robert Barclay, a native of Scotland, presented 
to the King, in 1675, his "Apology for the Quakers," a work 
as well drawn up as the subject could possibly admit. The 
dedication to Charles II. is not filled with mean, flattering 
encomiums, but abounds with bold touches in favour of 
truth and with the wisest counsels. "Thou hast tasted," 
said he to the King at the close of his epistle dedicatory, 
"of prosperity and adversity; thou knowest what it is to be 
banished thy native country; to be overruled as well as to 
rule and sit upon the throne ; and, being oppressed, thou hast 
reason to know how hateful the oppressor is both to God 
and man. If, after all these warnings and advertisements, 
thou dost not turn unto the Lord with all thy heart, but 
forget Him who remembered thee in thy distress, and give 
up thyself to follow lust and vanity, surely great will be thy 
condemnation. 

"Against which snare, as well as the temptation of those 
that may or do feed thee and prompt thee to evil, the most 
excellent and prevalent remedy will be, to apply thyself to 
that light of Christ which shineth in thy conscience, which 
neither can nor will flatter thee nor suffer thee to be at ease 
in thy sins, but doth and will deal plainly and faithfully with 
thee, as those that are followers thereof have plainly done. 
Thy faithful friend and subject, Robert Barclay." 

A more surprising circumstance is, that this epistle, 
written by a private man of no figure, was so happy in its 
effects, as to put a stop to the persecution. 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 7$ 

LETTER IV 
ON THE QUAKERS 

ABOUT this time arose the illustrious William Penn, who 
established the power of the Quakers in America, and 
would have made them appear venerable in the eyes of the 
Europeans, were it possible for mankind to respect virtue 
when revealed in a ridiculous light. He was the only son 
of Vice- Admiral Penn, favourite of the Duke of York, after 
wards King James II. 

William Penn, at twenty years of age, happening to meet 
with a Quaker 2 in Cork, whom he had known at Oxford, 
this man made a proselyte of him; and William being a 
sprightly youth, and naturally eloquent, having a winning 
aspect, and a very engaging carriage, he soon gained over 
some of his intimates. He carried matters so far, that he 
formed by insensible degrees a society of young Quakers, 
who met at his house ; so that he was at the head of a sect 
when a little above twenty. 

Being returned, after his leaving Cork, to the Vice-.. 
Admiral his father, instead of falling upon his knees to ask 
his blessing, he went up to him with his hat on, and said, 
" Friend, I am very glad to see thee in good health." The 
Vice-Admiral imagined his son to be crazy, but soon finding 
he was turned Quaker, he employed all the methods that 
prudence could suggest to engage him to behave and act like 
other people. The youth made no other answer to his father, 
than by exporting him to turn Quaker also. At last his 
father confined himself to this single request, viz., "that 
he should wait upon the King and the Duke of York with 
his hat under his arm, and should not thee and thou 
them." William answered, "that he could not do these 
things, for conscience sake," which exasperated his father 
to such a degree, that he turned him out of doors. Young 
Penn gave God thanks for permitting him to suffer so early 
in His cause, after which he went into the city, where he 
held forth, and made a great number of converts. 

The Church of England clergy found their congregations 

8 Thomas Loe. 



76 VOLTAIRE 

dwindle away daily; and Penn being young, handsome, and 
of a graceful stature, the court as weil as the city ladies 
flocked very devoutly to his meeting. The patriarch, George 
Fox, hearing of his great reputation, came to London 
(though the journey was very long) purely to see and con 
verse with him. Both resolved to go upon missions into 
foreign countries, and accordingly they embarked for Hol 
land, after having left labourers sufficient to take care of 
the London vineyard. 

Their labours were crowned with success in Amsterdam, 
but a circumstance which reflected the greatest honour on 
them, and at the same time put their humility to the greatest 
trial, was the reception they met with from Elizabeth, the 
v Princess Palatine, aunt to George I. of Great Britain, a 
lady conspicuous for her genius and knowledge, and to 
whom Descartes had dedicated his Philosophical Romance. 

She was then retired to The Hague, where she received 
these Friends, for so the Quakers were at that time called 
in Holland. This princess had several conferences with 
them in her palace, and she at last entertained so favour 
able an opinion of Quakerism, that they confessed she was 
not far from the kingdom of heaven. The Friends sowed 
likewise the good seed in Germany, but reaped very little 
fruit; for the mode of "theeing" and " thouing " was not 
approved of in a country where a man is perpetually obliged 
to employ the titles of " highness " and " excellency." Will 
iam Penn returned soon to England upon hearing of his 
father s sickness, in order to see him before he died. The 
Vice- Admiral was reconciled to his son, and though of a 
different persuasion, embraced him tenderly. William made 
a fruitless exhortation to his father not to receive the 
sacrament, but to die a Quaker, and the good old man 
entreated his son William to wear buttons on his sleeves, 
and a crape hatband in his beaver, but all to no purpose. 

William Penn inherited very large possessions, part of 
which consisted in Crown debts due to the Vice-Admiral 
for sums he had advanced for the sea service. No moneys 
were at that time more insecure than those owing from the 
king. Penn was obliged to go more than once, and " thee " 
and " thou " King Charles and his Ministers, in order to 






LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 77 

recover the debt; and at last, instead of specie, the Govern 
ment invested him with the right and sovereignty of a 
province of America, to the south of Maryland. Thus was 
a Quaker raised to sovereign power. Penn set sail for his 
new dominions with two ships freighted with Quakers, who 
followed his fortune. The country was then called Penn 
sylvania from William Penn, who there founded Philadel 
phia, now the most flourishing city in that country. The 
first step he took was to enter into an alliance with his 
American neighbours, and this is the only treaty between 
those people and the Christians that was not ratified by an 
oath, and was never infringed. The new sovereign was at 
the same time the legislator of Pennsylvania, and enacted 
very wise and prudent laws, none of which have ever been 
changed since his time. The first is, to injure no person 
upon a religious account, and to consider as brethren all 
those who believe in one God. 

He had no sooner settled his government, but several 
American merchants came and peopled this colony. The 
natives of the country, instead of flying into the woods, 
cultivated by insensible degrees a friendship with the peace 
able Quakers. They loved these foreigners as much as they 
detested the other Christians who had conquered and laid 
waste America. In a little time a great number of these 
savages (falsely so called), charmed with the mild and 
gentle disposition of their neighbours, came in crowds to 
William Penn, and besought him to admit them into the 
number of his vassals. It was very rare and uncommon for 
a sovereign to be " thee d " and " thou d " by the meanest 
of his subjects, who never took their hats off when they 
came into his presence; and as singular for a Government 
to be without one priest in it, and for a people to be without 
arms, either offensive or defensive; for a body of citizens 
to be absolutely undistinguished but by the public employ 
ments, and for neighbours not to entertain the least jealousy 
one against the other. 

William Penn might glory in having brought down upon 
earth the so much boasted golden age, which in all proba 
bility never existed but in Pennsylvania. He returned to 
England to settle some affairs relating to his new dominions. 



78 VOLTAIRE 

After the death of King Charles II., King James, who had 
loved the father, indulged the same affection to the son, 
and no longer considered him as an obscure sectary, but as 
a very great man. The king s politics on this occasion 
agreed with his inclinations. He was desirous of pleasing 
the Quakers by annulling the laws made against Noncon 
formists, in order to have an opportunity, by this universal 
toleration, of establishing the Romish religion. All the 
sectarists in England saw the snare that was laid for them, 
but did not give into it; they never failing to unite when 
the Romish religion, their common enemy, is to be opposed. 
But Penn did not think himself bound in any manner to 
renounce his principles, merely to favour Protestants to 
whom he was odious, in opposition to a king who loved 
him. He had established a universal toleration with regard 
to conscience in America, and would not have it thought 
that he intended to destroy it in Europe, for which reason 
he adhered so inviolably to King James, that a report 
prevailed universally of his being a Jesuit. This calumny 
affected him very strongly, and he was obliged to justify 
himself in print. However, the unfortunate King James 
II., in whom, as in most princes of the Stuart family, 
grandeur and weakness were equally blended, and who, 
like them, as much overdid some things as he was short 
in others, lost his kingdom in a manner that is hardly to be 
accounted for. 

All the English sectarists accepted from William III. and 
his Parliament the toleration and indulgence which they 
had refused when offered by King James. It was then the 
Quakers began to enjoy, by virtue of the laws, the several 
privileges they possess at this time. Penn having at last 
seen Quakerism firmly established in his native country, 
went back to Pennsylvania. His own people and the Amer 
icans received him with tears of joy, as though he had been 
a father who was returned to visit his children. All the 
laws had been religiousty observed in his absence, a cir 
cumstance in which no legislator had ever been happy but 
himself. After having resided some years in Pennsylvania 
he left it, but with great reluctance, in order to return to 
England, there to solicit some matters in favour of the 






LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 79 

commerce of Pennsylvania. But he never saw it again, he 
dying in Ruscombe, in Berkshire, in 1718. 

I am not able to guess what fate Quakerism may have in 
America, but I perceive it dwindles away daily in England. 
In all countries where liberty of conscience is allowed, the 
established religion will at last swallow up all the rest/ 
Quakers are disqualified from being members of Parliament; 
nor can they enjoy any post or preferment, because an oath 
must always be taken on these occasions, and they never 
swear. They are therefore reduced to the necessity of sub 
sisting upon traffic. Their children, whom the industry of 
their parents has enriched, are desirous of enjoying honours, 
of wearing buttons and ruffles; and quite ashamed of being 
called Quakers they become converts to the Church of 
England, merely to be in the fashion. 



LETTER V 
ON THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND 

ENGLAND is properly the country of sectarists. Multcs 
sunt mansiones in domo patris mei (in my Father s house 
are many mansions). An Englishman, as one to whom 
liberty is natural, may go to heaven his own way. 

Nevertheless, though every one is permitted to serve God 
in whatever mode or fashion he thinks proper, yet their 
true religion, that in which a man makes his fortune, is the 
sect of Episcopalians or Churchmen, called the Church of 
England, or simply the Church, by way of eminence. No 
person can possess an employment either in England or 
Ireland unless he be ranked among the faithful, that is, 
professes himself a member of the Church of England. 
This reason (which carries mathematical evidence with it) 
has converted such numbers of Dissenters of all persuasions, 
that not a twentieth part of the nation is out of the pale of 
the Established Church. The English clergy have retained a 
great number of the Romish ceremonies, and especially that 
of receiving, with a most scrupulous attention, their tithes/ 
They also have the pious ambition to aim at superiority. 

Moreover, they inspire very religiously their flock with a 



80 VOLTAIRE 

holy zeal against Dissenters of all denominations. This 
zeal was pretty violent under the Tories in the four last 
years of Queen Anne; but was productive of no greater mis 
chief than the breaking the windows of some meeting 
houses and the demolishing of a few of them. For religious 
rage ceased in England with the civil wars, and was no 
more under Queen Anne than the hollow noise of a sea 
whose billows still heaved, though so long after the storm 
when the Whigs and Tories laid waste their native country, 
in the same manner as the Guelphs and Ghibellines formerly 
did theirs. It was absolutely necessary for both parties to 
call in religion on this occasion; the Tories declared for 
Episcopacy, and the Whigs, as some imagined, were for 
abolishing it; however, after these had got the upper hand, 
they contented themselves with only abridging it. 

At the time when the Earl of Oxford and the Lord 
Bolingbroke used to drink healths to the Tories, the Church 
of England considered those noblemen as the defenders of 
its holy privileges. The lower House of Convocation (a 
kind of House of Commons) composed wholly of the clergy, 
was in some credit at that time; at least the members of it 
had the liberty to meet, to dispute on ecclesiastical matters, 
to sentence impious books from time to time to the flames, 
that is, books written against themselves. The Ministry 
which is now composed of Whigs does not so much as allow 
those genlemen to assemble, so that they are at this time 
reduced (in the obscurity of their respective parishes) to 
the melancholy occupation of praying for the prosperity of 
the Government whose tranquillity they would willingly 
disturb. With regard to the bishops, who are twenty-six in 
all, they still have seats in the House of Lords in spite of the 
Whigs, because the ancient abuse of considering them as 
barons subsists to this day. There is a clause, however, 
in the oath which the Government requires from these 
gentlemen, that puts their Christian patience to a very great 
trial, viz., that they shall be of the Church of England as 
by law established. There are few bishops, deans, or other 
dignitaries, but imagine they are so jure divino; it is con 
sequently a great mortification to them to be obliged to con 
fess that they owe their dignity to a pitiful law enacted by 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 81 

a set of profane laymen. A learned monk (Father Courayer) 
wrote a book lately to prove the validity and succession of 
English ordinations. This book was forbid in France, but 
do you believe that the English Ministry were pleased with 
it? Far from it. Those damned Whigs don t care a straw 
whether the episcopal succession among them hath been in 
terrupted or not, or whether Bishop Parker was consecrated 
(as it is pretended) in a tavern or a church; for these 
Whigs are much better pleased that the Bishops should 
derive their authority from the Parliament than from the 
Apostles. The Lord Bolingbroke observed that this noJion 
of divine right would only make so many tyrants in lawn 
sleeves, but that the laws made so many citizens. 

With regard to the morals of the English clergy, they are 
more regular than those of France, and for this reason. 
All the clergy (a very few excepted) are educated in the 
Universities of Oxford or Cambridge, far from the de 
pravity and corruption which reign in the capital. They 
are not called to dignities till very late, at a time of life when 
men are sensible of no other passion but avarice, that is, 
when their ambition craves a supply. Employments are here 
bestowed both in the Church and the army, as a reward for 
long services; and we never see youngsters made bishops 
or colonels immediately upon their laying aside the aca 
demical gown; and besides most of the clergy are married. 
The stiff and awkward air contracted by them at the Uni 
versity, and the little familiarity the men of this country 
have with the ladies, commonly oblige a bishop to confine 
himself to, and rest contented with, his own. Clergymen 
sometimes take a glass at the tavern, custom giving them a 
sanction on this occasion ; and if they fuddle themselves it 
is in a very serious manner, and without giving the least 
scandal. 

That fable-mixed kind of mortal (not to be defined), who 
is neither of the clergy nor of the laity; in a word, the thing 
called Abbe in France; is a species quite unknown in Eng 
land. All the clergy here are very much upon the reserve, 
and most of them pedants. When these are told that in 
France young fellows famous for their dissoluteness, and 
raised to the highest dignities of the Church by female 



82 VOLTAIRE 

intrigues, address the fair publicly in an amorous way, 
amuse themselves in writing tender love songs, entertain 
their friends very splendidly every night at their own houses, 
and after the banquet is ended withdraw to invoke the assist 
ance of the Holy Ghost, and call themselves boldly the suc 
cessors of the Apostles, they bless God for their being Prot 
estants. But these are shameless heretics, who deserve to 
be blown hence through the flames to old Nick, as Rabelais 
says, and for this reason I don t trouble myself about them. 



LETTER VI 
ON THE PRESBYTERIANS 

THE Church of England is confined almost to the kingdom 
whence it received its name, and to Ireland, for Presby- 
terianism is the established religion in Scotland. This 
Presbyterianism is directly the same with Calvinism, as it 
was established in France, and is now professed at Geneva. 
As the priests of this sect receive but very inconsiderable 
stipends from their churches, and consequently cannot emu 
late the splendid luxury of bishops, they exclaim very natu 
rally against honours which they can never attain to. 
Figure to yourself the haughty Diogenes trampling under 
foot the pride of Plato. The Scotch Presbyterians are not 
very unlike that proud though tattered reasoner. Diogenes 
did not use Alexander half so impertinently as these treated 
King Charles II. ; for when they took up arms in his cause 
in opposition to Oliver, who had deceived them, they forced 
that poor monarch to undergo the hearing of three or four 
sermons every day, would not suffer him to play, reduced 
him to a state of penitence and mortification, so that Charles 
soon grew sick of these pedants, and accordingly eloped 
from them with as much joy as a youth does from school. 

A Church of England minister appears as another Cato 
in presence of a juvenile, sprightly French graduate, who 
bawls for a whole morning together in the divinity schools, 
and hums a song in chorus with ladies in the evening; but 
this Cato is a very spark when before a Scotch Presby 
terian. The latter affects a serious gait, puts on a sour look, 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 83 

wears a vastly broad-brimmed hat and a long cloak over a 
very short coat, preaches through the nose, and gives the 
name of the whore of Babylon to all churches where the 
ministers are so fortunate as to enjoy an annual revenue of 
five or six thousand pounds, and where the people are weak 
enough to suffer this, and to give them the titles of my lord, 
your lordship, or your eminence. 

These gentlemen, who have also some churches in Eng 
land, introduced there the mode of grave and severe ex 
hortations. To them is owing the sanctification of Sunday 
in the three kingdoms. People are there forbidden to 
work or. take any recreation on that day, in which the 
severity is twice as great as that of the Romish Church. 
No operas, plays, or concerts are allowed in London on 
Sundays, and even cards are so expressly forbidden that 
none but persons of quality, and those we call the genteel, 
play on that day; the rest of the nation go either to church, 
to the tavern, or to see their mistresses. 

Though the Episcopal and Presbyterian sects are the 
two prevailing ones in Great Britain, yet all others are 
very welcome to come and settle in it, and live very sociably 
together, though most of their preachers hate one another 
almost as cordially as a Jansenist damns a Jesuit. 

Take a view of the Royal Exchange in London, a place 
more venerable than many courts of justice, where the rep 
resentatives of all nations meet for the benefit of mankind. 
There the Jew, the Mahometan, and the Christian transact 
together, as though they all professed the same religion, and 
give the name of infidel to none but bankrupts. There the 
Presbyterian confides in the Anabaptist, and the Churchman 
depends on the Quaker s word. At the breaking up of 
this pacific and free assembly, some withdraw to the syna 
gogue, and others to take a glass. This man goes and is 
baptized in a great tub, in the name of the Father, Son, and 
Holy Ghost: that man has his son s foreskin cut off, whilst 
a set of Hebrew words (quite unintelligible to him) are 
mumbled over his child. Others retire to their churches, 
and there wait for the inspiration of heaven with their hats 
on, and all are satisfied. 

If one religion only were allowed in England, the Gov- 



84 VOLTAIRE 

ernment would very possibly become arbitrary; if there were 
but two, the people would cut one another s throats; but as 
there are such a multitude, they all live happy and in peace. 



LETTER VII 

ON THE SOCINIANS, OR ARIANS, OR 
ANTITRINITARIANS 

THERE is a little sect here composed of clergymen, and 
of a few very learned persons among the laity, who, though 
they don t call themselves Arians or Socinians, do yet dis 
sent entirely from St. Athanasius with regard to their notions 
of the Trinity, and declare very frankly that the Father is 
greater than the Son. 

Do you remember what is related of a certain orthodox 
bishop, who in order to convince an emperor of the reality 
of consubstantiation, put his hand under the chin of the 
monarch s son, and took him by the nose in presence of his 
sacred majesty? The emperor was going to order his at 
tendants to throw the bishop out of the window, when the 
good old man gave him this handsome and convincing 
reason: "Since your majesty," said he, "is angry when 
your son has not due respect shown him, what punishment 
do you think will God the Father inflict on those who refuse 
His Son Jesus the titles due to Him?" The persons I 
just now mentioned declare that the holy bishop took a very 
wrong step, that his argument was inconclusive, and that the 
emperor should have answered him thus : " Know that there 
are two ways by which men may be wanting in respect to 
me first, in not doing honour sufficient to my son; and, 
secondly, in paying him the same honour as to me." 

Be this as it will, the principles of Arius begin to revive, 
not only in England, but in Holland and Poland. The 
celebrated Sir Isaac Newton honoured this opinion so far as 
to countenance it. This philosopher thought that the Unitari 
ans argued more mathematically than we do. But the most 
sanguine stickler for Arianism is the illustrious Dr. Clark. 
This man is rigidly virtuous, and of a mild disposition, is 
more fond of his tenets than desirous of propagating them, 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 85 

and absorbed so entirely in problems and calculations that 
he is a mere reasoning machine. 

It is he who wrote a book which is much esteemed and 
little understood, on the existence of God, and another, more 
intelligible, but pretty much contemned, on the truth of the 
Christian religion. He never engaged in scholastic disputes, 
which our friend calls venerable trifles. He only published a 
work containing all the testimonies of the primitive ages for 
and against the Unitarians, and leaves to the reader the 
counting of the voices and the liberty of forming a judg 
ment. This book won the doctor a great number of parti 
sans, and lost him the See of Canterbury but, in my humble 
opinion, he was out in his calculation, and had better have 
been Primate of all England than merely an Arian parson. 

You see that opinions are subject to revolutions as well 
as empires. Arianism, after having triumphed during three 
centuries, and been forgot twelve, rises at last out of its 
own ashes; but it has chosen a very improper season to 
make its appearance in, the present age being quite cloyed 
with disputes and sects. The members of this sect are, be 
sides, too few to be indulged the liberty of holding public 
assemblies, which, however, they will, doubtless, be permitted 
to do in case they spread considerably. But people are now 
so very cold with respect to all things of this kind, that there 
is little probability any new religion, or old one, that may 
be revived, will meet with favour. Is it not whimsical 
enough that Luther, Calvin, and Zuinglius, all of em 
wretched authors, should have founded sects which are now 
spread over a great part of Europe, that Mahomet, though 
so ignorant, should have given a religion to Asia and Africa, 
and that Sir Isaac Newton, Dr. Clark, Mr. Locke, Mr. Le 
Clerc, etc., the greatest philosophers, as well as the ablest 
writers of their ages, should scarce have been able to raise 
a little flock, which even decreases daily. 

This it is to be born at a proper period of time. Were 
Cardinal de Retz to return again into the world neither his 
eloquence nor his intrigues would draw together ten women 
in Paris. Were Oliver Cromwell, he who beheaded his 
sovereign, and seized upon the kingly dignity, to rise from 
the dead, he would be a wealthy City trader, and no more. 



86 VOLTAIRE 

LETTER VIII 
ON THE PARLIAMENT 

THE members of the English Parliament are fond of com 
paring themselves to the old Romans. 

Not long since Mr. Shippen opened a speech in the House 
of Commons with these words, "The majesty of the people 
of England would be wounded." The singularity of the 
expression occasioned a loud laugh; but this gentleman, so 
far from being disconcerted, repeated the same words with a 
resolute tone of voice, and the laugh ceased. In my opinion, 
the majesty of the people of England has nothing in common 
with that of the people of Rome, much less is there any 
affinity between their Governments. There is in London 
a senate, some of the members whereof are accused (doubt 
less very unjustly) of selling their voices on certain oc 
casions, as was done in Rome; this is the only resemblance. 
Besides, the two nations appear to me quite opposite in char 
acter, with regard both to good and evil. The Romans 
never knew the dreadful folly of religious wars, an abomi 
nation reserved for devout preachers of patience and hu 
mility. Marious and Sylla, Caesar and Pompey, Anthony and 
Augustus, did not draw their swords and set the world in 
a blaze merely to determine whether the flamen should wear 
his shirt over his robe, or his robe over his shirt, or whether 
the sacred chickens should eat and drink, or eat only, in 
order to take the augury. The English have hanged one 
another by law, and cut one another to pieces in pitched 
battles, for quarrels of as trifling nature. The sects of the 
Episcopalians and Presbyterians quite distracted these very 
serious heads for a time. But I fancy they will hardly ever 
be so silly again, they seeming to be grown wiser at their 
own expense; and I do not perceive the least inclination in 
them to murder one another merely about syllogisms, as 
some zealots among them once did. 

But here follows a more essential difference between 
Rome and England, which gives the advantage entirely to 
the latter viz., that the civil wars of Rome ended in 
slavery, and those of the English in liberty. The English 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 87 

are the only people upon earth who have been able to pre 
scribe limits to the power of kings by resisting them; and 
who, by a series of struggles, have at last established that 
wise Government where the Prince is all powerful to do 
good, and, at the same time, is restrained from committing 
evil; where the nobles are great without insolence, though 
there are no vassals; and where the people share in the 
Government without confusion. 

The House of Lords and that of the Commons divide the 
legislative power under the king, but the Romans had no 
such balance. The patricians and plebeians in Rome were 
perpetually at variance, and there was no intermediate power 
to reconcile them. The Roman senate, who were so unjustly, 
so criminally proud as not to suffier the plebeians to share 
with them in anything, could find no other artifice to keep f 
the latter out of the administration than by employing them 
in foreign wars. They considered the plebeians as a wild 
beast, whom it behoved them to let loose upon their neigh 
bours, for fear they should devour their masters. Thus the 
greatest defect in the Government of the Romans raised^ 
them to be conquerors. By being unhappy at home, they 
triumphed over and possessed themselves of the world, till 
at last their divisions sunk them to slavery. 

The Government of England will never rise to so exalted 
a pitch of glory, nor will its end be so fatal. The English 
are not fired with the splendid folly of making conquests, 
but would only prevent their neighbours from conquering. 
They are not only jealous of their own liberty, but even of 
that of other nations. The English were exasperated against 
Louis XIV. for no other reason but because he was ambitious, w 
and declared war against him merely out of levity, not from 
any interested motives. 

The English have doubtless purchased their liberties at a 
very high price, and waded through seas of blood to drown 
the idol of arbitrary power. Other nations have been in 
volved in as great calamities, and have shed as much blood; 
but then the blood they spilt in defence of their liberties only 
enslaved them the more. 

That which rises to a revolution in England is no more 
than a sedition in other countries. A city in Spain, in 



88 VOLTAIRE 

Barbary, or in Turkey, takes up arms in defence of its 
privileges, when immediately it is stormed by mercenary 
troops, it is punished by executioners, and the rest of the 
nation kiss the chains they are loaded with. The French 
are of opinion that the government of this island is more 
tempestuous than the sea which surrounds it, which indeed 
is true; but then it is never so but when the king raises 
the storm when he attempts to seize the ship of which he 
is only the chief pilot. The civil wars of France lasted 
longer, were more cruel, and productive of greater evils 
than those of England; but none of these civil wars had a 
wise and prudent liberty for their object. 

In the detestable reigns of Charles IX. and Henry III. 
the whole affair was only whether the people should be slaves 
to the Guises. With regard to the last war of Paris, it 
deserves only to be hooted at. Methinks I see a crowd of 
schoolboys rising up in arms against their master, and after 
wards whipped for it. Cardinal de Retz, who was witty and 
brave (but to no purpose), rebellious without a cause, 
factious without design, and head of a defenseless party, 
caballed for caballing s sake, and seemed to foment the 
civil war merely out of diversion. The parliament did not 
know what he intended, nor what he did not intend. He 
levied troops by Act of Parliament, and the next moment 
cashiered them. He threatened, he begged pardon; he set 
a price upon Cardinal Mazarin s head, and afterwards con 
gratulated him in a public manner. Our civil wars under 
Charles VI. were bloody and cruel, those of the League 
execrable, and that of the Frondeurs 8 ridiculous. 

That for which the French chiefly reproach the English 
nation is the murder of King Charles I., whom his subjects 
treated exactly as he would have treated them had his 
reign been prosperous. After all, consider on one side 
Charles I., defeated in a pitched battle, imprisoned, tried, 
sentenced to die in Westminster Hall, and then beheaded. 
And on the other, the Emperor Henry VII., poisoned by 
his chaplain at his receiving the Sacrament; Henry III. 
stabbed by a monk; thirty assassinations projected against 

8 Frondeurs, in its proper sense Stingers, and figuratively Cavillers, or 
lovers of contradiction, was a name given to a league or party that opposed 
the French Ministry; . e., Cardinal Mazarin, in 1648. 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 89 

Henry IV., several of them put in execution, and the last 
bereaving that great monarch of his life. Weigh, I say, all 
these wicked attempts and then judge. 



LETTER IX 
ON THE GOVERNMENT 

THAT mixture in the English Government, that harmony 
between King, Lords, and Commons, did not always subsist. 
England was enslaved for a long series of years by the 
Romans, the Saxons, the Danes, and the French successively. 
William the Conqueror particularly, ruled them with a rod 
of iron. He disposed as absolutely of the lives and fortunes 
of his conquered subjects as an eastern monarch; and for 
bade, upon pain of death, the English either fire or candle 
in their houses after eight o clock ; whether he did this to pre 
vent their nocturnal meetings, or only to try, by this odd and 
whimsical prohibition, how far it was possible for one man 
to extend his power over his fellow-creatures. It is true, 
indeed, that the English had Parliaments before and after 
William the Conqueror, and they boast of them, as though 
these assemblies then called Parliaments, composed of eccle 
siastical tyrants and of plunderers entitled barons, had been 
the guardians of the public liberty and happiness. 

The barbarians who came from the shores of the Baltic, 
and settled in the rest of Europe, brought with them the 
form of government called States or Parliaments, about 
which so much noise is made, and which are so little under 
stood. Kings, indeed, were not absolute in those days; but 
then the people were more wretched upon that very account, 
and more completely enslaved. The chiefs of these savages, 
who had laid waste France, Italy, Spain, and England, made 
themselves monarchs. Their generals divided among them 
selves the several countries they had conquered, whence 
sprung those margraves, those peers, those barons, those 
petty tyrants, who often contested with their sovereigns for 
the spoils of whole nations. These were birds of prey 
fighting with an eagle for doves whose blood the victorious 
was to suck. Every nation, instead of being governed by 



90 VOLTAIRE 

one master, was trampled upon by a hundred tyrants. The 
priests soon played a part among them. Before this it had 
been the fate of the Gauls, the Germans, and the Britons, 
to be always governed by their Druids and the chiefs of 
their villages, an ancient kind of barons, not so tyrannical as 
their successors. T hese Druids pretended to be mediators 
between God and man. They enacted laws, they fulminated 
their excommunications, and sentenced to death. The bishops 
succeeded, by insensible degrees, to their temporal authority 
in the Goth and Vandal government. The popes set them 
selves at their head, and armed with their briefs, their bulls, 
and reinforced by monks, they made even kings tremble, 
deposed and assassinated them at pleasure, and employed 
every artifice to draw into their own purses moneys from 
all parts of Europe. The weak Ina, one of the tyrants of 
the Saxon Heptarchy in England, was the first monarch who 
submitted, in his pilgrimage to Rome, to pay St. Peter s 
penny (equivalent very near to a French crown) for every 
house in his dominions. The whole island soon followed 
his example; England became insensibly one of the Pope s 
provinces, and the Holy Father used to send from time to 
time his legates thither to levy exorbitant taxes. At last 
King John delivered up by a public instrument the kingdom 
of England to the Pope, who had excommunicated him; but 
the barons, not finding their account in this resignation, de 
throned the wretched King John and seated Louis, father 
to St Louis, King of France, in his place. However, they 
were soon weary of their new monarch, and accordingly 
obliged him to return to France. 

Whilst that the barons, the bishops, and the popes, all laid 
waste England, where all were for ruling; the most numer 
ous, the most useful, even the most virtuous, and conse 
quently the most venerable part of mankind, consisting of 
those who study the laws and the sciences, of traders, of 
artificers, in a word, of all who were not tyrants that is, 
those who are called the people: these, I say, were by them 
looked upon as so many animals beneath the dignity of the 
human species. The Commons in those ages were far from 
sharing in the government, they being villains or peasants, 
whose labour, whose blood, were the property of their mas- 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 91 

ters who entitled themselves the nobility. The major part 
of men in Europe were at that time what they are to this 
day in several parts of the world they were villains or 
bondsmen of lords that is, a kind of cattle bought and sold 
with the land. Many ages passed away before justice could 
be done to human nature before mankind were conscious 
that it was abominable for many to sow, and but few reap. 
And was not France very happy, when the power and au 
thority of those petty robbers was abolished by the lawful 
authority of kings and of the people? 

Happily, in the violent shocks which the divisions between 
kings and the nobles gave to empires, the chains of nations 
were more or less heavy. Liberty in England sprang from 
the quarrels of tyrants. The barons forced King John and 
King Henry III. to grant the famous Magna Charta, the 
chief design of which was indeed to make kings dependent 
on the Lords; but then the rest of the nation were a little 
favoured in it, in order that they might join on proper oc 
casions with their pretended masters. This great Charter, 
which is considered as the sacred origin of the English 
liberties, shows in itself how little liberty was known. 
^ The title alone proves that the king thought he had a just 
right to be absolute; and that the barons, and even the 
clergy, forced him to give up the pretended right, for no 
other reason but because they were the most powerful. 

Magna Charta begins in this style: " We grant, of our own 
free will, the following privileges to the archbishops, bishops, 
priors, and barons of our kingdom," etc. 
^ The House of Commons is not once mentioned in the ar 
ticles of this Charter a proof that it did not yet exist, or 
that it existed without power. Mention is therein made, by 
name, of the freemen of England a melancholy proof that 
some were not so. It appears, by Article XXXII, that these 
pretended freemen owed service to their lords. Such a lib 
erty as this was not many removes from slavery. 

By Article XXL, the king ordains that his officers shall 
not henceforward seize upon, unless they pay for them, the 
horses and carts of freemen. The people considered this 
ordinance as a real liberty, though it was a greater tyranny. 
Henry VII., that happy usurper and great politician, who 



92 VOLTAIRE 

pretended to love the barons, though he in reality hated and 
feared them, got their lands alienated. By this means the 
villains, afterwards acquiring riches by their industry, pur 
chased the estates and country seats of the illustrious peers 
who had ruined themselves by their folly and extravagance, 
and all the lands got by insensible degrees into other hands. 

The power of the House of Common ; increased every day. 
The families of the ancient peers were at last extinct ; and as 
peers only are properly noble in England, there would be no 
such thing in strictness of law as nobility in that island, had 
not the kings created new barons from time to time, and 
preserved the body of peers, once a terror to them, to oppose 
them to the Commons, since become so formidable. 

All these new peers who compose the Higher House re 
ceive nothing but their titles from the king, and very few 
of them, have estates in those places whence they take their 

titles. One shall be Duke of D , though he has not a 

foot of land in Dorsetshire; and another is Earl of a vil 
lage, though he scarce knows where it is situated. The 
peers have power, but it is only in the Parliament House. 

There is no such thing here as haute, moyenne, and basse 
justice that is, a power to judge in all matters civil and 
criminal; nor a right or privilege of hunting in the grounds 
of a citizen, who at the same time is not permitted to fire a 
gun in his own field. 

No one is exempted in this country from paying certain 
taxes because he is a nobleman or a priest. All duties and 
taxes are settled by the House of Commons, whose power 
is greater than that of the Peers, though inferior to it in 
dignity. The spiritual as well as temporal Lords have the 
liberty to reject a Money Bill brought in by the Commons; 
but they are not allowed to alter anything in it, and must 
either pass or throw it out without restriction. When the 
Bill has passed the Lords and is signed by the king, then the 
whole nation pays, every man in proportion to his revenue 
or estate, not according to his title, which would be absurd. 
There is no such thing as an arbitrary subsidy or poll-tax, 
but a real tax on the lands, of all which an estimate was 
made in the reign of the famous King William III. 

The land-tax continues still upon the same foot, though 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 93 

the revenue of the lands is increased. Thus no one is tyr 
annised over, and every one is easy. The feet of the peas 
ants are not bruised by wooden shoes ; they eat white bread, 
are well clothed, and are not afraid of increasing their stock 
of cattle, nor of tiling their houses, from any apprehension 
that their taxes will be raised the year following. The an 
nual income of the estates of a great many commoners in 
England amounts to two hundred thousand livres, and yet 
these do not think it beneath them to plough the lands which 
enrich them, and on which they enjoy their liberty. 



LETTER X 
ON TRADE 

As trade enriched the citizens in England, so it contributed : 
to their freedom, and this freedom on the other side extended ^ 
their commerce, whenc2 arose the grandeur of the State. 
Trade raised by insensible degrees the naval power, which 
gives the English a superiority over the seas, and they now 
are masters of very near two hundred ships of war. Pos 
terity will very probably be surprised to hear that an island 
whose only produce is a little lead, tin, fuller s-earth, and 
coarse wool, should become so powerful by its commerce, as 
to be able to send, in 1723, three fleets at the same time to 
three different and far distanced parts of the globe. One 
before Gibraltar, conquered and still possessed by the Eng 
lish; a second to Porto Bello, to dispossess the King of Spain 
of the treasures of the West Indies; and a third into the 
Baltic, to prevent the Northern Powers from coming to an 
engagement. 

At the time when Louis XIV. made all Italy tremble, and 
that his armies, which had already possessed themselves of 
Savoy and Piedmont, were upon the point of taking Turin; 
Prince Eugene was obliged to march from the middle of 
Germany in order to succour Savoy. Having no money, 
without which cities car not be either taken or defended, he 
addressed himself to some English merchants. These, at 
an hour and a half s warning, lent him five millions, whereby 
he was enabled to deliver Turin, and to beat the French; 



94 VOLTAIRE 

after which he wrote the following short letter to the per 
sons who had disbursed him the above-mentioned sums: 
" Gentlemen, I received your money, and flatter myself 
that I have laid it out to your satisfaction." Such a circum 
stance as this raises a just pride in an English merchant, and 
makes him presume (not without some reason) to compare 
himself to a Roman citizen; and, indeed, a peer s brother 
does not think traffic beneath him. When the Lord Town- 
shend was Minister of State, a brother of his was content to 
be a City merchant ; and at the time that the Earl of Oxford 
governed Great Britain, his younger brother was no more 
than a factor in Aleppo, where he chose to live, and where he 
died. This custom, which begins, however, to be laid aside, 
appears monstrous to Germans, vainly puffed up with their 
extraction. These think it morally impossible that the son 
of an English peer should be no more than a rich and power 
ful citizen, for all are princes in Germany. There have been 
thirty highnesses of the same name, all whose patrimony con 
sisted only in their escutcheons and their pride. 

In France the title of marquis is given gratis to any one 
who will accept of it; and whosoever arrives at Paris from 
the midst of the most remote provinces with money in his 
purse, and a name terminating in ac or ille, may strut about, 
and cry, " Such a man as I ! A man of my rank and figure !" 
and may look down upon a trader with sovereign contempt; 
whilst the trader on the other side, by thus often hearing his 
profession treated so disdainfully, is fool enough to blush at 
it. However, I need not say which is most useful to a na 
tion; a lord, powdered in the tip of the mode, who knows 
exactly at what o clock the king rises and goes to bed, and 
who gives himself airs of grandeur and state, at the same 
time that he is acting the slave in the ante-chamber of a 
prime minister; or a merchant, who enriches his country, 
despatches orders from his counting-house to Surat and 
Grand Cairo, and contributes to the felicity of the world. 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 95 

LETTER XI 
ON INOCULATION 

IT is inadvertently affirmed in the Christian countries of 
Europe that the English are fools and madmen. Fools, be 
cause they give their children the small-pox to prevent their 
catching it; and madmen, because they wantonly communi 
cate a certain and dreadful distemper to their children, 
merely to prevent an uncertain evil. The English, on the 
other side, call the rest of the Europeans cowardly and un 
natural. Cowardly, because they are afraid of putting their 
children to a little pain ; unnatural, because they expose them 
to die one time or other of the small-pox. But that the 
reader may be able to judge whether the English or those 
who differ from them in opinion are in the right, here follows 
the history of the famed inoculation, which is mentioned 
with so much dread in France. 

The Circassian women have, from time immemorial, com 
municated the small-pox to their children when not above 
six months old by making an incision in the arm, and by 
putting into this incision a pustule, taken carefully from the 
body of another child. This pustule produces the same 
effect in the arm it is laid in as yeast in a piece of dough; 
it ferments, and diffuses through the whole mass of blood 
the qualities with which it is impregnated. The pustules of 
the child in whom the artificial small-pox has been thus 
inoculated are employed to communicate the same distemper 
to others. There is an almost perpetual circulation of it in 
Circassia; and when unhappily the small-pox has quite left 
the country, the inhabitants of it are in as great trouble and 
perplexity as other nations when their harvest has fallen 
short. 

The circumstance that introduced a custom in Circassia, 
which appears so singular to others, is nevertheless a cause 
common to all nations, I mean maternal tenderness and 
interest. 

The Circassians are poor, and their daughters are beau 
tiful, and indeed, it is in them they chiefly trade. They 
furnish with beauties the seraglios of the Turkish Sultan, 



96 VOLTAIRE 

of the Persian Sophy, and of all those who are wealthy 
enough to purchase and maintain such precious merchandise. 
These maidens are very honourably and virtuously instructed 
to fondle and caress men; are taught dances of a very polite 
and effeminate kind ; and how to heighten by the most volup 
tuous artifices the pleasures of their disdainful masters for 
whom they are designed. These unhappy creatures repeat 
their lesson to their mothers, in the same manner as little 
girls among us repeat their catechism without understanding 
one word they say. 

Now it often happened that, after a father and mother had 
taken the utmost care of the education of their children, they 
were frustrated of all their hopes in an instant. The small 
pox getting into the family, one daughter died of it, another 
lost an eye, a third had a great nose at her recovery, and the 
unhappy parents were completely ruined. Even, frequently, 
when the small-pox became epidemical, trade was suspended 
for several years, which thinned very considerably the 
seraglios of Persia and Turkey. 

A trading nation is always watchful over its own interests, 
and grasps at every discovery that may be of advantage to 
its commerce. The Circassians observed that scarce one 
person in a thousand was ever attacked by a small-pox of a 
violent kind. That some, indeed, had this distemper very 
favourably three or four times, but never twice so as to 
prove fatal; in a word, that no one ever had it in a violent 
degree twice in his life. They observed farther, that when 
the small-pox is of the milder sort, and the pustules have 
only a tender, delicate skin to break through, they never leave 
the least scar in the face. From these natural observations 
they concluded, that in case an infant of six months or a 
year old should have a milder sort of small-pox, he would 
not die of it, would not be marked, nor be ever afflicted with 
it again. 

In order, therefore, to preserve the life and beauty of 
their children, the only thing remaining was to give them 
the small-pox in their infant years. This they did by in 
oculating in the body of a child a pustule taken from the 
most regular and at the same time the most favourable sort 
of small-pox that could be procured. 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 97 

The experiment could not possibly fail. The Turks, who 
are people of good sense, soon adopted this custom, insomuch 
that at this time there is not a bassa in Constantinople but 
communicates the small-pox to his children of both sexes 
immediately upon their being weaned. 

Some pretend that the Circassians borrowed this custom 
anciently from the Arabians ; but we shall leave the clearing 
up of this point of history to some learned Benedictine, who 
will not fail to compile a great many folios on this subject, 
with the several proofs or authorities. All I have to say 
upon it is that, in the beginning of the reign of King George 
I., the Lady Wortley Montague, a woman of as fine a genius, 
and endued with as great a strength of mind, as any of her 
sex in the British Kingdoms, being with her husband, who 
was ambassador at the Porte, made no scruple to communi 
cate the small-pox to an infant of which she was delivered 
in Constantinople. 

The chaplain represented to his lady, but to no pur 
pose, that this was an un-Christian operation, and there 
fore that it could succeed with none but infidels. How 
ever, it had the most happy effect upon the son of the Lady 
Wortley Montague, who, at her return to England, com 
municated the experiment to the Princess of Wales, now 
Queen of England. It must be confessed that this princess, 
abstracted from her crown and titles, was born to encourage 
the whole circle of arts, and to do good to mankind. She 
appears as an amiable philosopher on the throne, having 
never let slip one opportunity of improving the great talents 
she received from Nature, nor of exerting her beneficence. 
It is she who, being informed that a daughter of Milton was 
living, but in miserable circumstances, immediately sent her 
a considerable present. It is she who protects the learned 
Father Courayer. It is she who condescended to attempt a 
reconciliation between Dr. Clark and Mr. Leibnitz. The 
moment this princess heard of inoculation, she caused an 
experiment of it to be made on four criminals sentenced to 
die, and by that means preserved their lives doubly; for she 
not only saved them from the gallows, but by means of this 
artificial small-pox prevented their ever having that distem 
per in a natural way, with which they would very probably 



HC XXXIV 



98 VOLTAIRE 

have been attacked one time or other, and might have died 
of in a more advanced age. 

The princess being assured of the usefulness of this opera 
tion, caused her own children to be inoculated. A great part 
of the kingdom followed her example, and since that time 
ten thousand children, at least, of persons of condition owe 
in this manner their lives to her Majesty and to the Lady 
Wortley Montague ; and as many of the fair sex are obliged 
to them for their beauty. 

Upon a general calculation, threescore persons in every 
hundred have the small-pox. Of these threescore, twenty 
die of it in the most favourable season of life, and as many 
more wear the disagreeable remains of it in their faces so 
long as they live. Thus, a fifth part of mankind either die 
or are disfigured by this distemper. -But it does not prove 
fatal to so much as one among those who are inoculated in 
Turkey or in England, unless the patient be infirm, or would 
have died had not the experiment been made upon him. Be 
sides, no one is disfigured, no one has the small-pox a second 
time, if the inoculation was perfect. It is therefore certain, 
that had the lady of some French ambassador brought this 
secret from Constantinople to Paris, the nation would have 
been for ever obliged to her. Then the Duke de Villequier, 
father to the Duke d Aumont, who enjoys the most vigorous 
constitution, and is the healthiest man in France, would not 
have been cut off in the flower of his age. 

The Prince of Soubise, happy in the finest flush of health, 
would not have been snatched away at five-and-twenty, nor 
the Dauphin, grandfather to Louis XV., have been laid in 
his grave in his fiftieth year. Twenty thousand persons 
whom the small-pox swept away at Paris in 1723 would have 
been alive at this time. But are not the French fond of life, 
and is beauty so inconsiderable an advantage as to be disre 
garded by the ladies? It must be confessed that we are an 
odd kind of people. Perhaps our nation will imitate ten 
years hence this practice of the English, if the clergy and 
the physicians will but give them leave to do it; or possibly 
our countrymen may introduce inoculation three months 
hence in France out of mere whim, in case the English 
should discontinue it through fickleness. 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 99 

I am informed that the Chinese have practised inoculation 
these hundred years, a circumstance that argues very much 
in its favour, since they are thought to be the wisest and 
best governed people in the world. The Chinese, indeed, do 
not communicate this distemper by inoculation, but at the 
nose, in the same manner as we take snuff. This is a more 
agreeable way, but then it produces the like effects; and 
proves at the same time that had inoculation been practised 
in France it would have saved the lives of thousands. 

LETTER XII 
ON THE LORD BACON 

NOT long since the trite and frivolous question following was 
debated in a very polite and learned company, viz., Who was 
the greatest man, Caesar, Alexander, Tamerlane, Cromwell, 
&c. ? 

Somebody answered that Sir Isaac Newton excelled them 
all. The gentleman s assertion was very just; for if true 
greatness consists in having received from heaven a mighty 
genius, and in having employed it to enlighten our own mind 
and that of others, a man like Sir Isaac Newton, whose equal 
is hardly found in a thousand years, is the truly great man. 
And those politicians and conquerors (and all ages produce 
some) were generally so many illustrious wicked men. That 
man claims our respect who commands over the minds of 
the rest of the world by the force of truth, not those who 
enslave their fellow-creatures : he who is acquainted with the 
universe, not they who deface it. 

Since, therefore, you desire me to give you an account of 
the famous personages whom England has given birth to, I 
shall begin with Lord Bacon, Mr. Locke, Sir Isaac Newton, 
&c. Afterwards the warriors and Ministers of State shall 
come in their order. 

^ I must begin with the celebrated Viscount Verulam, known 
m Europe by the name of Bacon, which was that of his 
His father had been Lord Keeper, and himself was 
a great many years Lord Chancellor under King James I. 
Nevertheless, amidst the intrigues of a Court, and the affairs 



100 VOLTAIRE 

of his exalted employment, which alone were enough to en 
gross his whole time, he yet found so much leisure for study 
as to make himself a great philosopher, a good historian, and 
an elegant writer ; and a still more surprising circumstance 
is that he lived in an age in which the art of writing justly 
and elegantly was little known, much less true philosophy. 
Lord Bacon, as is the fate of man, was more esteemed after 
his death than in his lifetime. His enemies were in the 
British Court, and his admirers were foreigners. 

When the Marquis d Effiat attended in England upon the 
Princess Henrietta Maria, daughter to Henry IV., whom 
King Charles I. had married, that Minister went and visited 
the Lord Bacon, who, being at that time sick in his bed, re 
ceived him with the curtains shut close. " You resemble the 
angels," said the Marquis to him; "we hear those beings 
spoken of perpetually, and we believe them superior to men, 
but are never allowed the consolation to see them." 

You know that this great man was accused of a crime 
very unbecoming a philosopher: I mean bribery and extor 
tion. You know that he was sentenced by the House of Lords 
to pay a fine of about four hundred thousand French livres, 
to lose his peerage and his dignity of Chancellor; but in 
the present age the English revere his memory to such a 
degree, that they will scarce allow him to have been guilty. 
In case you should ask what are my thoughts on this head, 
I shall answer you in the words which I heard the Lord 
Bolingbroke use on another occasion. Several gentlemen 
were speaking, in his company, of the avarice with which 
the late Duke of Marlborough had been charged, some ex 
amples whereof being given, the Lord Bolingbroke was ap 
pealed to (who, having been in the opposite party, might 
perhaps, without the imputation of indecency, have been 
allowed to clear up that matter) : " He was so great a man," 
replied his lordship, " that I have forgot his vices." 

I shall therefore confine myself to those things which so 
justly gained Lord Bacon the esteem of all Europe. 

The most singular and the best of all his pieces is that 

which, at this time, is the most useless and the least read, I 

; mean his Novum Scientiarum Organum. This is the scaffold 

with which the new philosophy was raised; and when the 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 101 

edifice was built, part of it at least, the scaffold was no 
longer of service. 

The Lord Bacon was not yet acquainted with Nature, but 
then he knew, and pointed out, the several paths that lead 
to it. He had despised in his younger years the thing called 
philosophy in the Universities, and did all that lay in his 
power to prevent those societies of men instituted to improve 
human reason from depraving it by their quiddities, their 
horrors of the vacuum, their substantial forms, and all those 
impertinent terms which not only ignorance had rendered 
venerable, but which had been made sacred by their being 
ridiculously blended with religion. 

He is the father of experimental philosophy. It must, 
indeed, be confessed that very surprising secrets had been 
found out before his time the sea-compass, printing, en 
graving on copper plates, oil-painting, looking-glasses; the 
art of restoring, in some measure, old men to their sight 
by spectacles ; gunpowder, &c., had been discovered. A new 
world has been sought for, found, and conquered. Would 
not one suppose that these sublime discoveries had been made 
by the greatest philosophers, and in ages much more en 
lightened than the present ? But it was far otherwise; all 
these great changes happened in the most stupid and bar 
barous times. Chance only gave birth to most of those in 
ventions; and it is very probable that what is called chance 
contributed very much to the discovery of America; at least, 
it has been always thought that Christopher Columbus under 
took his voyage merely on the relation of a captain of a ship 
which a storm had driven as far westward as the Caribbean 
Islands. Be this as it will, men had sailed round the world, 
and could destroy cities by an artificial thunder more dread 
ful than the real one; but, then, they were not acquainted 
with the circulation of the blood, the weight of the air, the 
laws of motion, light, the number of our planets, &c. And 
a man who maintained a thesis on Aristotle s " Categories/ 
on the universals a parte rei, or such-like nonsense, was 
looked upon as a prodigy. 

The most astonishing, the most useful inventions, are 
not those which reflect the greatest honour on the human 
mind. It is to a mechanical instinct, which is found in 



102 VOLTAIRE 

many men, and not to true philosophy, that most arts owe 
their origin. 

The discovery of fire, the art of making bread, of melting 
and preparing metals, of building houses, and the invention 
of the shuttle, are infinitely more beneficial to mankind than 
printing or the sea-compass : and yet these arts were invented 
by uncultivated, savage men. 

What a prodigious use the Greeks and Romans made 
afterwards of mechanics! Nevertheless, they believed that 
there were crystal heavens, that the stars were small lamps 
which sometimes fell into the sea, and one of their greatest 
philosophers, after long researches, found that the stars were 
so many flints which had been detached from the earth. 

In a word, no one before the Lord Bacon was acquainted 
with experimental philosophy, nor with the several physical 
experiments which have been made since his time. Scarce 
one of them but is hinted at in his work, and he himself had 
made several. He made a kind of pneumatic engine, by 
which he guessed the elasticity of the air. He approached, 
on all sides as it were, to the discovery of its weight, and 
had very near attained it, but some time after Torricelli seized 
upon this truth. In a little time experimental philosophy 
began to be cultivated on a sudden in most parts of Europe. 
It was a hidden treasure which the Lord Bacon had some 
notion of, and which all the philosophers, encouraged by his 
promises, endeavoured to dig up. 

But that which surprised me most was to read in his work, 
in express terms, the new attraction, the invention of which 
is ascribed to Sir Isaac Newton. 

We must search, says Lord Bacon, whether there may not 
be a kind of magnetic power which operates between the 
earth and heavy bodies, between the moon and the ocean, 
between the planets, &c. In another place he says either 
heavy bodies must be carried towards the centre of the earth, 
or must be reciprocally attracted by it ; and in the latter case 
it is evident that the nearer bodies, in their falling, draw 
towards the earth, the stronger they will attract one another. 
We must, says he, make an experiment to see whether the 
same clock will go faster on the top of a mountain or at 
the bottom of a mine; whether the strength of the weights 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 103 

decreases on the mountain and increases in the mine. It is 
probable that the earth has a true attractive power. 

This forerunner in philosophy was also an elegant writer, 
an historian, and a wit. 

His moral essays are greatly esteemed, but they were 
drawn up in the view of instructing rather than of pleasing; 
and, as they are not a satire upon mankind, like Rochefou 
cauld s "Maxims," nor written upon a sceptical plan, like 
Montaigne s " Essays," they are not so much read as those 
two ingenious authors. 

^ His History of Henry VII. was looked upon as a master 
piece, but how is it possible that some persons can presume 
to compare so little a work with the history of our illustrious 
Thuanus ? 

Speaking about the famous impostor Perkin, son to a con 
verted Jew, who assumed boldly the name and title of Richard 
IV., King of England, at the instigation of the Duchess 
of Burgundy, and who disputed the crown with Henry VII., 
the Lord Bacon writes as follows : 

"At this time the King began again to be haunted with 
sprites, by the magic and curious arts of the Lady Margaret, 
who raised up the ghost of Richard, Duke of York, second 
son to King Edward IV., to walk and vex the King. 

After such time as she (Margaret of Burgundy) thought 
he (Perkin Warbeck) was perfect in his lesson, she began 
to cast with herself from what coast this blazing star should 
first appear, and at what time it must be upon the horizon of 
Ireland; for there had the like meteor strong influence 
before." 

Methinks our sagacious Thuanus does not give in to suet 
fustian, which formerly was looked upon as sublime, but i* 
this age is justly called nonsense. 



LETTER XIII 
ON MR. LOCKE 

PERHAPS no man ever had a more judicious or more method 
ical genius, or was a more acute logician than Mr. Locke, and 
yet he was not deeply skilled in the mathematics. This great 



104 VOLTAIRE 

man could never subject himself to the tedious fatigue of 
calculations, nor to the dry pursuit of mathematical truths, 
which do not at first present any sensible objects to the mind; 
and no one has given better proofs than he, that it is pos 
sible for a man to have a geometrical head without the as 
sistance of geometry. Before his time, several great philoso 
phers had declared, in the most positive terms, what the 
soul of man is; but as these absolutely knew nothing about 
it, they might very well be allowed to differ entirely in 
opinion from one another. 

In Greece, the infant seat of arts and of errors, and where 
the grandeur as well as folly of the human mind went such 
prodigious lengths, the people used to reason about the soul 
in the very same manner as we do. 

Tfte divine Anaxagoras, in whose honour an altar was 
erected for his having taught mankind that the sun was 
greater than Peloponnesus, that snow was black, and that 
the heavens were of stone, affirmed that the soul was an 
aerial spirit, but at the same time immortal. Diogenes 
(not he who was a cynical philosopher after having coined 
base money) declared that the soul was a portion of the 
substance of God : an idea which we must confess was very 
sublime. Epicurus maintained that it was composed of parts 
in the same manner as the body. 

Aristotle, who has been explained a thousand ways, be 
cause he is unintelligible, was of opinion, according to some 
of his disciples, that the understanding in all men is one and 
the same substance. 

The divine Plato, master of the divine Aristotle, and the 
divine Socrates, master of the divine Plato, used to say 
that the soul was corporeal and eternal. No doubt but the 
demon of Socrates had instructed him in the nature of it. 
Some people, indeed, pretend that a man who boasted his 
being attended by a familiar genius must infallibly be either 
a knave or a madman, but this kind of people are seldom 
satisfied with anything but reason. 

With regard to the Fathers of the Church, several in the 
primitive ages believed that the soul was human, and the 
angels and God corporeal. Men naturally improve upon 
every system. St. Bernard, as Father Mabillon confesses, 






LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 105 

taught that the soul after death does not see God in the 
celestial regions, but converses with Christ s human nature 
only. However, he was not believed this time on his bare 
word; the adventure of the crusade having a little sunk 
the credit of his oracles. Afterwards a thousand school 
men arose, such as the Irrefragable Doctor, the Subtile 
Doctor, the Angelic Doctor, the Seraphic Doctor, and the 
Cherubic Doctor, who were all sure that they had a very 
clear and distinct idea of the soul, and yet wrote in such a 
manner, that one would conclude they were resolved no one 
should understand a word in their writings. Our Descartes, 
born to discover the errors of antiquity, and at the same 
time to substitute his own ; and hurried away by that system 
atic spirit which throws a cloud over the minds of the 
greatest men, thought he had demonstrated that the soul is 
the same thing as thought, in the same manner as matter, 
in his opinion, is the same as extension. He asserted, that 
man thinks eternally, and that the soul, at its coming into 
the body, is informed with the whole series of metaphysical 
notions : knowing God, infinite space, possessing all abstract 
ideas in a word, completely endued with the most sublime 
lights, which it unhappily forgets at its issuing from the 
womb. 

Father Malebranche, in his sublime illusions, not only 
admitted innate ideas, but did not doubt of our living wholly 
in God, and that God is, as it were, our soul. 

Such a multitude of reasoners having written the 
romance of the soul, a sage at last arose, who gave, with 
an air of the greatest modesty, the history ot it. Mr. Locke ; 
has displayed the human soul in the same manner as an 
excellent anatomist explains the springs of the human body. 
He everywhere takes the light of physics for his guide. He 
sometimes presumes to speak affirmatively, but then he 
presumes also to doubt. Instead of concluding at once what 
we know not, he examines gradually what we would know. 
He takes an infant at the instant of his birth; he traces, 
step by ^ step, the progress of his understanding; examines 
what things he has in common with beasts, and what he 
possesses above them. Above all, he consults himself: the 
being conscious that he himself thinks. 



106 VOLTAIRE 

"I shall leave," says he, "to those who know more of 
this matter than myself, the examining whether the soul 
exists before or after the organisation of our bodies. But 
I confess that it is my lot to be animated with one of those 
heavy souls which do not think always; and I am even so 
unhappy as not to conceive that it is more necessary the soul 
should think perpetually than that bodies should be for 
ever in motion." 

With regard to myself, I shall boast that I have the 
honour to be as stupid in this particular as Mr. Locke. No 
one shall ever make me believe that I think always : and I 
am as little inclined as he could be to fancy that some weeks 
after I was conceived I was a very learned soul; knowing 
at that time a thousand things which I forgot at my birth; 
and possessing when in the womb (though to no manner of 
purpose) knowledge which I lost the instant I had occasion 
for it; and which I have never since been able to recover 
perfectly. 

Mr. Locke, after having destroyed innate ideas; after 
having fully renounced the vanity of believing that we think 
always; after having laid down, from the most solid prin 
ciples, that ideas enter the mind through the senses; having 
examined our simple and complex ideas; having traced the 
human mind through its several operations; having shown 
that all the languages in the world are imperfect, and the 
great abuse that is made of words every moment, he at last 
comes to consider the extent or rather the narrow limits 
of human knowledge. It was in this chapter he presumed 
to advance, but very modestly, the following words: "We 
shall, perhaps, never be capable of knowing whether a being, 
purely material, thinks or not." This sage assertion was, 
by more divines than one, looked upon as a scandalous 
declaration that the soul is material and mortal. Some 
Englishmen, devout after their way, sounded an alarm. The 
superstitious are the same in society as cowards in an army ; 
they themselves are seized with a panic fear, and com 
municate it to others. It was loudly exclaimed that Mr. 
Locke intended to destroy religion; nevertheless, religion 
had nothing to do in the affair, it being a question purely 
philosophical, altogether independent of faith and revela- 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 107 

tion. Mr. Locke s opponents needed but to examine, calmly 
and impartially, whether the declaring that matter can think, 
implies a contradiction; and whether God is able to com 
municate thought to matter. But divines are too apt to 
begin their declarations with saying that God is offended 
when people differ from them in opinion; in which they 
too much resemble the bad poets, who used to declare 
publicly that Boileau spake irreverently of Louis XIV., be 
cause he ridiculed their stupid productions. Bishop Stil- 
lingfleet got the reputation of a calm and unprejudiced 
divine because he did not expressly make use of injurious 
terms in his dispute with Mr. Locke. That divine entered 
the lists against him, but was defeated; for he argued as a 
schoolman, and Locke as a philosopher, who was perfectly 
acquainted with the strong as well as the weak side of the 
human mind, and who fought with weapons whose temper 
he knew. If I might presume to give my opinion on so 
delicate a subject after Mr. Locke, I would say, that men 
have long disputed on the nature and the immortality of the 
soul. With regard to its immortality, it is impossible to 
give a demonstration of it, since its nature is still the 
subject of controversy; which, however, must be thoroughly 
understood before a person can be able to determine 
whether it be immortal or not. Human reason is so little 
able, merely by its own strength, to demonstrate the im 
mortality of the soul, that it was absolutely necessary 
religion should reveal it to us. It is of advantage to society 
in general, that mankind should believe the soul to be im 
mortal ; faith commands us to do this ; nothing more is 
required, and the matter is cleared up at once. But it is 
otherwise with respect to its nature ; it is of little importance 
to religion, which only requires the soul to be virtuous, 
whatever substance it may be made of. It is a clock which 
is given us to regulate, but the artist has not told us of what 
materials the spring of this clock is composed. 

I am a body, and, I think, that s all I know of the matter. 
Shall I ascribe to an unknown cause, what I can so easily 
impute to the only second cause I am acquainted with ? Here 
all the school philosophers interrupt me with their argu 
ments, and declare that there is only extension and solidity 



108 VOLTAIRE 

in bodies, and that there they can have nothing but motion 
and figure. Now motion, figure, extension and solidity can 
not form a thought, and consequently the soul cannot be 
matter. All this so often repeated mighty series of reason 
ing, amounts to no more than this : I am absolutely ignorant 
what matter is; I guess, but imperfectly, some properties 
of it; now I absolutely cannot tell whether these properties 
may be joined to thought. As I therefore know nothing, 
I maintain positively that matter cannot think. In this 
manner do the schools reason. 

Mr. Locke addressed these gentlemen in the candid, 
sincere manner following: At least confess yourselves to 
be as ignorant as I. Neither your imaginations nor mine 
are able to comprehend in what manner a body is sus 
ceptible of ideas ; and do you conceive better in what man 
ner a substance, of what kind soever, is susceptible of 
them ? As you cannot comprehend either matter or spirit, 
why will you presume to assert anything? 

The superstitious man comes afterwards and declares, 
that all those must be burnt for the good of their souls, 
who so much as suspect that it is possible for the body to 
think without any foreign assistance. But what would 
these people say should they themselves be proved ir 
religious? And indeed, what man can presume to assert, 
without being guilty at the same time of the greatest impiety, 
that it is impossible for the Creator to form matter with 
thought and sensation? Consider only, I beg you, what a 
dilemma you bring yourselves into, you who confine in this 
manner the power of the Creator. Beasts have the same 
organs, the same sensations, the same perceptions as we ; 
they have memory, and combine certain ideas. In case it 
was not in the power of God to animate matter, and inform 
it with sensation, the consequence would be, either that 
beasts are mere machines, or that they have a spiritual soul. 

Methinks it is clearly evident that beasts cannot be mere 
machines, which I prove thus. God has given to them the 
very same organs of sensation as to us: if therefore they 
have no sensation, God has created a useless thing; now 
according to your own confession God does nothing in 
vain; He therefore did not create so many organs of sensa- 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 139 

tion, merely for them to be uninformed with this faculty; 
consequently beasts are not mere machines. Beasts, accord 
ing to your assertion, cannot be animated with a spiritual 
soul ; you will, therefore, in spite of yourself, be reduced 
to this only assertion, viz., that God has endued the organs 
of beasts, who are mere matter, with the faculties of sen 
sation and perception, which you calLinstinrt in them. But 
why may not God, if He pleases, communicate to our more 
delicate organs, that faculty of feeling, perceiving, and 
thinking, which we call human reason? To whatever side 
you turn, you are forced toaclaiowledge your own igno 
rance, and the boundless power of the Creator. Exclaim 
therefore no more against the sage, the modest philosophy 
of Mr. Locke, which so. far from interfering with religion, 
would be of use to demonstrate the truth of it, in case 
religion wanted any such support. For what philosophy can 
be of a more religious nature than that, which affirming 
nothing but what it conceives clearly, and conscious of its 
own weakness, declares that we must always have recourse 
to God in our examining of the first principles? 

Besides, we must not be apprehensive that any philo 
sophical opinion will ever prejudice the religion of a country. 
Though our demonstrations .clash directly with our 
mysteries, that is nothing to the purpose, for the latter are 
not less revered upon that account by our Christian philos 
ophers, who know very well that the objects of reason and 
those of faith are of a very different nature. Philosophers 
will never form a religious sect, the reason of which is, 
their writings are not calculated for the vulgar, and they 
themselves are free from enthusiasm. If we divide man 
kind into twenty parts, it will be found that nineteen of 
these consist of persons employed in manual labour, who 
will never know that such a man as Mr. Locke existed. In 
the remaining twentieth part how few are readers ? And 
among such as are so, twenty amuse themselves with 
romances to one who studies philosophy. The thinking part 
of mankind is confined to a very small number, and these 
will never disturb the peace and tranquillity of the world. 

Neither Montaigne, Locke, Bayle, Spinoza, Hobbes, the 
Lord Shaftesbury, Collins, nor Toland lighted up the fire- 



110 VOLTAIRE 

brand of discord in their countries; this has generally been 
the work of divines, who being at first puffed up with the 
ambition of becoming chiefs of a sect, soon grew very 
desirous of being at the head of a party. But what do I 
say ? All the works of the modern philosophers put to 
gether will never make so much noise as even the dispute 
which arose among the Franciscans, merely about the 
fashion of their sleeves and of their cowls. 



LETTER XIV 
ON DESCARTES AND SIR ISAAC NEWTON 

A FRENCHMAN who arrives in London, will find philosophy, 
like everything else, very much changed there. He had left 
the world a plenum, and he now finds it a vacuum. At 
Paris the universe is seen composed of vortices of subtile 
matter; but nothing like it is seen in London. In France, 
it is the pressure of the moon that causes the tides; but in 
England it is the sea that gravitates towards the moon; so 
that when you think that the moon should make it flood 
with us, those gentlemen fancy it should be ebb, which very 
unluckily cannot be proved. For to be able to do this, it is 
necessary the moon and the tides should have been inquired 
into at the very instant of the creation. 

You will observe farther, that the sun, which in France 
is said to have nothing to do in the affair, comes in here for 
very near a quarter of its assistance. According to your 
Cartesians, everything is performed by an impulsion, of which 
we have very little notion; and according to Sir Isaac 
Newton, it is by an attraction, the cause of which is as much 
unknown to us. At Paris you imagine that the earth is 
shaped like a melon, or of an oblique figure ; at London it 
has an oblate one. A Cartesian declares that light exists in 
the air; but a Newtonian asserts that it comes from the sun 
in six minutes and a half. The several operations of your 
chemistry are performed by acids, alkalies and subtile mat 
ter; but attraction prevails even in chemistry among the 
English. 

The very essence of things is totally changed. You 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 111 

neither arc agreed upon the definition of the soul, nor on 
that of matter. Descartes, as I observed in my last, main 
tains that the soul is the same thing with thought, and Mr. 
Locke has given a pretty good proof of the contrary. 

Descartes asserts farther, that extension alone constitutes 
matter, but Sir Isaac adds solidity to it. 
How furiously contradictory are these opinions ! 
"Non nostrum inter vos tantas componere lites." 

VIRGIL, Eclog. III. 

" Tis not for us to end such great disputes." 
This famous Newton, this destroyer of the Cartesian 
system, died in March, anno 1727. His countrymen honoured 
him in his lifetime, and interred him as though he had been 
a king who had made his people happy. 

The English read with the highest satisfaction, and trans 
lated into their tongue, the Elogium of Sir Isaac Newton, 
which M. de Fontenelle spoke in the Academy of Sciences. 
M. de Fontenelle presides as judge over philosophers; and 
the English expected his decision, as a solemn declaration 
of the superiority of the English philosophy over that of 
the French. But when it was found that this gentleman 
had compared Descartes to Sir Isaac, the whole Royal 
Society in London rose up in arms. So far from acquiescing 
with M. Fontenelle s judgment, they criticised his discourse. 
And even several (who, however, were not the ablest phi 
losophers in that body) were offended at the comparison, 
and for no other reason but because Descartes was a 
Frenchman. 

It must be confessed that these two great men differed 
very much in conduct, in fortune, and in philosophy. 

Nature had indulged Descartes with a shining and strong 
imagination, whence he became a very singular person both 
in private life and in his manner of reasoning. This imagina 
tion could not conceal itself even in his philosophical 
works, which are everywhere adorned with very shining, 
ingenious metaphors and figures. Nature had almost made 
him a poet; and indeed he wrote a piece of poetry for the 
entertainment of Christina, Queen of Sweden, which how 
ever was suppressed in honour to his memory. 



112 VOLTAIRE 



He embraced a military life for some time, and afterwards 
becoming a complete philosopher, he did not think the 
passion of love derogatory to his character. He had by his 
mistress a daughter called Froncine, who died young," and 
was very much regretted by him. Thus he experienced 
every passion incident to mankind. 

He was a long time of opinion that it would be necessary 
for him to fly from the society of his fellow creatures, and 
especially from his native country, in order to enjoy the 
happiness of cultivating his philosophical studies in full 
liberty. 

Descartes was very right, for his contemporaries were 
not knowing enough to improve and enlighten his under 
standing, and were capable of little else than of giving him 
uneasiness. 

He left France purely to go in search of truth, which was 
then persecuted by the wretched philosophy of the schools. 
However, he found that reason was as much disguised and 
depraved in the universities of Holland, into which he with 
drew, as in his own country. For at the time that the French 
condemned the only propositions of his philosophy which 
were true, he was persecuted by the pretended philosophers 
of Holland, who understood him no better; and who, having 
a nearer view of his glory, hated his person the more, so 
that he was obliged to leave Utrecht. Descartes was in 
juriously accused of being an atheist, the last refuge of 
religious scandal : and he who had employed all the sagacity 
and penetration of his genius, in searching for new proofs 
of the existence of a God, was suspected to believe there 
was no such Being. 

Such a persecution from all sides, must necessarily sup 
pose a most exalted merit as well as a very distinguished 
reputation, and indeed he possessed both. Reason at that 
time darted a ray upon the world through the gloom of the 
schools, and the prejudices of popular superstition. At last 
his name spread so universally, that the French were de 
sirous of bringing him back into his native country by 
rewards, and accordingly offered him an annual pension of a 
thousand crowns. Upon these hopes Descartes returned to 
France; paid the fees of his patent, which was sold at that 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 113 

time, but no pension was settled upon him. Thus disap 
pointed, he returned to his solitude in North Holland, where 
he again pursued the study of philosophy, whilst the great 
Galileo, at fourscore years of age, was groaning in the 
prisons of the Inquisition, only for having demonstrated the 
earth s motion. 

At last Descartes was snatched from the world in the 
flower of his age at Stockholm. His death was owing to a 
bad regimen, and he expired in the midst of some literati 
who were his enemies, and under the hands of a physician 
to whom he was odious. 

The progress of Sir Isaac Newton s life was quite dif 
ferent. He lived happy, and very much honoured in his 
native country, to the age of fourscore and five years. 

It was his peculiar felicity, not only to be born in a 
country of liberty, but in an age when all scholastic imper 
tinences were banished from the world. Reason alone was 
cultivated, and mankind could only be his pupil, not his 
enemy. 

One very singular difference in the lives of these two great 
men is, that Sir Isaac, during the long course of years he 
enjoyed, was never sensible to any passion, was not subject 
to the common frailties of mankind, nor ever had any com 
merce with women a circumstance which was assured me 
by the physician and surgeon who attended him in his last 
moments. 

We may admire Sir Isaac Newton on this occasion, but 
then we must not censure Descartes. 

The opinion that generally prevails in England with re 
gard to these new philosophers is, that the latter was a 
dreamer, and the former a sage. 

Very few people in England read Descartes, whose works 
indeed are now useless. On the other side, but a ^ small 
number peruse those of Sir Isaac, because to do this the 
student must be deeply skilled in the mathematics, other 
wise those works will be unintelligible to him. But not 
withstanding this, these great men are the subject of every 
one s discourse. Sir Isaac Newton is allowed every advan 
tage, whilst Descartes is not indulged a single one. Accord 
ing to some, it is to the former that we owe the discovery 



114 VOLTAIRE 

of a vacuum, that the air is a heavy body, and the invention 
of telescopes. In a word, Sir Isaac Newton is here as the 
Hercules of fabulous story, to whom the ignorant ascribed 
all the feats of ancient heroes. 

In a critique that was made in London on M. de Fon- 
tenelle s discourse, the writer presumed to assert that 
Descartes was not a great geometrician. Those who make 
such a declaration may justly be reproached with flying in 
their master s face. Descartes extended the limits of geom 
etry as far beyond the place where he found them, as Sir 
Isaac did after him. The former first taught the method of 
expressing curves by equations. This geometry which, 
thanks to him for it, is now grown common, was so abstruse 
in his time, that not so much as one professor would under 
take to explain it; and Schotten in Holland, and Format 
in France, were the only men who understood it. 

He applied this geometrical and inventive genius to diop 
trics, which, when treated of by him, became a new art. 
And if he was mistaken in some things, the reason of that 
is, a man who discovers a new tract of land cannot at once 
know all the properties of the soil. Those who come after 
him, and make these lands fruitful, are at least obliged to 
him for the discovery. I will not deny but that there are 
innumerable errors in the rest of Descartes works. 

Geometry was a guide he himself had in some measure 
fashioned, which would have conducted him safely through 
the several paths of natural philosophy. Nevertheless, he 
at last abandoned this guide, and gave entirely into the 
humour of forming hypotheses; and then philosophy was 
no more than an ingenious romance, fit only to amuse the 
ignorant. He was mistaken in the nature of the soul, in the 
proofs of the existence of a God, in matter, in the laws of 
motion, and in the nature of light. He admitted innate 
ideas, he invented new elements, he created a world; he 
made man according to his own fancy; and it is justly said, 
that the man of Descartes is, in fact, that of Descartes only, 
very different from the real one. 

He pushed his metaphysical errors so far, as to declare 
that two and two make four for no other reason but be 
cause God would have it so. However, it will not be making 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 115 

him too great a compliment if we affirm that he was valuable 
even in his mistakes. He deceived himself, but then it was 
at least in a methodical way. He destroyed all the absurd 
chimeras with which youth had been infatuated for two 
thousand years. He taught his contemporaries how to 
reason, and enabled them to employ his own weapons against 
himself. If Descartes did not pay in good money, he how 
ever did great service in crying down that of a base alloy. 

I indeed believe that very few will presume to compare 
his philosophy in any respect with that of Sir Isaac Newton. 
The former is an essay, the latter a masterpiece. But then 
the man who first brought us to the path of truth, was per 
haps as great a genius as he who afterwards conducted us 
through it. 

Descartes gave sight to the blind. These saw the errors 
of antiquity and of the sciences. The path he struck out is 
since become boundless. Robault s little work was, during 
some years, a complete system of physics ; but now all the 
Transactions of the several academies in Europe put to 
gether do not form so much as the beginning of a system. 
In fathoming this abyss no bottom has been found. We are 
now to examine what discoveries Sir Isaac Newton has 
made in it 



LETTER XV. 
ON ATTRACTION 

THE discoveries which gained Sir Isaac Newton so universal 
a reputation, relate to the system of the world, to light, to 
geometrical infinities; and, lastly, to chronology, with which 
he used to amuse himself after the fatigue of his severer 
studies. 

I will now acquaint you (without prolixity if possible) 
with the few things i have been able to comprehend of all 
these sublime ideas. With regard to the system of our world 
disputes were a long time maintained, on the cause that turns 
the planets, and keeps them in their orbits; and on those 
causes which make all bodies here below descend towards 
the surface of the earth. 



116 VOLTAIRE 

The system of Descartes, explained and improved since 
his time, seemed to give a plausible reason for all those 
phenomena; and this reason seemed more just, as it is simple 
and intelligible to all capacities. But in philosophy, a stu 
dent ought to doubt of the things he fancies he understands 
too easily, as much as of those he does not understand. 

Gravity, the falling of accelerated bodies on the earth, 
the revolution of the planets in their orbits, their rotations 
round their axis, all this is mere motion. Now motion can 
not perhaps be conceived any otherwise than by impulsion; 
therefore all those bodies must be impelled. But by what 
are they impelled? All space is full, it therefore is filled 
with a very subtile matter, since this is imperceptible to us; 
this matter goes from west to east, since all the planets are 
carried from west to east. Thus from hypothesis to hy 
pothesis, from one appearance to another, philosophers 
have imagined a vast whirlpool of subtile matter, in which 
the planets are carried round the sun : they also have created 
another particular vortex which floats in the great one, and 
which turns daily round the planets. When all this is done, 
it is pretended that gravity depends on this diurnal motion; 
for, say these, the velocity of the subtile matter that turns 
round our little vortex, must be seventeen times more rapid 
than that of the earth; or, in case its velocity is seventeen 
times greater than that of the earth, its centrifugal force 
must be vastly greater, and consequently impel all bodies 
towards the earth. This is the cause of gravity, according 
to the Cartesian system. But the theorist, before he cal 
culated the centrifugal force and velocity of the subtile mat 
ter, should first have been certain that it existed. 

Sir Isaac Newton seems to have destroyed all these great 
and little vortices, both that which carries the planets round 
the sun, as well as the other which supposes every planet to 
turn on its own axis. 

First, with regard to the pretended little vortex of the 
earth, it is demonstrated that it must lose its motion by in 
sensible degrees ; it is demonstrated, that if the earth swims 
in a fluid, its density must be equal to that of the earth ; and 
in case its density be the same, all the bodies we endeavour 
to move must meet with an insuperable resistance. 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 117 

With regard to the great vortices, they are still more 
chimerical, and it is impossible to make them agree with 
Kepler s law, the truth of which has been demonstrated. 
Sir Isaac shows, that the revolution of the fluid in which 
Jupiter is supposed to be carried, is not the same with re 
gard to the revolution of the fluid of the earth, as the revo 
lution of Jupiter with respect to that of the earth. He 
proves, that as the planets make their revolutions in ellipses, 
and consequently being at a much greater distance one from 
the other in their Aphelia, and a little nearer in their Peri 
helia; the earth s velocity, for instance, ought to be greater 
when it is nearer Venus and Mars, because the fluid that 
carries it along, being then more pressed, ought to have a 
greater motion; and yet it is even then that the earth s 
motion is slower. 

He proves that there is no such thing as a celestial matter 
which goes from west to east since the comets traverse 
those spaces, sometimes from east to west, and at other times 
from north to south. 

In fine, the better to resolve, if possible, every difficulty, 
he proves, and even by experiments, that it is impossible 
there should be a plenum; and brings back the vacuum, 
which Aristotle and Descartes had banished from the world. 

Having by these and several other arguments destroyed 
the Cartesian vortices, he despaired of ever being able to dis 
cover whether there is a secret principle in nature which, at 
the same time, is the cause of the motion of all celestial 
bodies, and that of gravity on the earth. But being retired 
in 1666, upon account of the Plague, to a solitude near Cam 
bridge ; as he was walking one day in his garden, and saw 
some fruits fall from a tree, he fell into a profound medita 
tion on that gravity, the cause of which had so long been 
sought, but in vain, by all the philosophers, whilst the vulgar 
think there is nothing mysterious in it. He said to himself, 
that from what height soever in our hemisphere, those bodies 
might descend, their fall would certainly be in the progres 
sion discovered by Galileo ; and the spaces they run through 
would be as the square of the times. Why may not this 
power which causes heavy bodies to descend, and is the same 
without any sensible diminution at the remotest distance from 



118 VOLTAIRE 

the centre of the earth, or on the summits of the highest 
mountains, why, said Sir Isaac, may not this power extend 
as high as the moon? And in case its influence reaches so 
far, is it not very probable that this power retains it in its 
orbit, and determines its motion? But in case the moon 
obeys this principle (whatever it be) may we not conclude 
very naturally that the rest of the planets are equally sub 
ject to it ? In case this power exists (which besides is proved) 
it must increase in an inverse ratio of the squares of the 
distances. All, therefore, that remains is, to examine how 
far a heavy body, which should fall upon the earth from a 
moderate height, would go ; and how far in the same time, a 
body which should fall from the orbit of the moon, would 
descend. To find this, nothing is wanted but the measure of 
the earth, and the distance of the moon from it. 

Thus Sir Isaac Newton reasoned. But at that time the 
English had but a very imperfect measure of our globe, and 
depended on the uncertain supposition of mariners, who com 
puted a degree to contain but sixty English miles, whereas 
it consists in reality of near seventy. As this false compu 
tation did not agree with the conclusions which Sir Isaac 
intended to draw from them, he laid aside this pursuit. A 
half-learned philosopher, remarkable only for his vanity, 
would have made the measure of the earth agree, anyhow, 
with his system. Sir Isaac, however, chose rather to quit 
the researches he was then engaged in. But after Mr. 
Picard had measured the earth exactly, by tracing that 
meridian which redounds so much to the honour of the 
French, Sir Isaac Newton resumed his former reflections, 
and found his account in Mr. Picard s calculation. 

A circumstance which has always appeared wonderful to 
me, is that such sublime discoveries should have been made 
by the sole assistance of a quadrant and a little arithmetic. 

The circumference of the earth is 123,249,600 feet. This, 
among other things, is necessary to prove the system of 
attraction. 

The instant we know the earth s circumference, and the 
distance of the moon, we know that of the moon s orbit, and 
the diameter of this orbit. The moon performs its revolu 
tion in that orbit in twenty-seven days, seven hours, forty- 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 119 

three minutes. It is demonstrated, that the moon in its mean 
motion makes an hundred and fourscore and seven thou 
sand nine hundred and sixty feet (of Paris) in a minute. 
It is likewise demonstrated, by a known theorem, that the 
central force which should make a body fall from the height 
of the moon, would make its velocity no more than fifteen 
Paris feet in a minute of time. Now if the law by which 
bodies gravitate and attract one another in an inverse ratio 
to the squares of the distances be true, if the same power 
acts according to that law throughout all nature, it is evident 
that as the earth is sixty semi-diameters distant from the 
moon, a heavy body must necessarily fall (on the earth) 
fifteen feet in the first second, and fifty-four thousand feet 
in the first minute. 

Now a heavy body falls, in reality, fifteen feet in the first 
second, and goes in the first minute fifty-four thousand feet, 
which number is the square of sixty multiplied by fifteen. 
Bodies, therefore, gravitate in an inverse ratio of the squares 
of the distances; consequently, what causes gravity on earth, 
and keeps the moon in its orbit, is one and the same power; 
it being demonstrated that the moon gravitates on the earth, 
which is the centre of its particular motion, it is demon 
strated that the earth and the moon gravitate on the sun 
which is the centre of their annual motion. 

The rest of the planets must be subject to this general 
law; and if this law exists, these planets must follow the 
laws which Kepler discovered. All these laws, all these 
relations are indeed observed by the planets with the utmost 
exactness; therefore, the power of attraction causes all the 
planets to gravitate towards the sun, in like manner as the 
moon gravitates towards our globe. 

Finally as in all bodies re-action is equal to action, it is 
certain that the earth gravitates also towards the moon; 
and that the sun gravitates towards both. That every one 
of the satellites of Saturn gravitates towards the other four, 
and the other four towards it; all five towards Saturn, and 
Saturn towards all. That it is the same with regard to 
Jupiter; and that all these globes are attracted by the sun, 
which is reciprocally attracted by them. 

This power of gravitation acts proportionably to the 



120 VOLTAIRE 

quantity of matter in bodies, a truth, which Sir Isaac has 
demonstrated by experiments. This new discovery has been 
of use to show that the sun (the centre of the planetary 
system) attracts them all in a direct ratio of their quantity 
of matter combined with their nearness. From hence Sir 
Isaac, rising by degrees to discoveries which seemed not to 
be formed for the human mind, is bold enough to compute 
the quantity of matter contained in the sun and in every 
planet; and in this manner shows, from the simple laws of 
mechanics, that every celestial globe ought necessarily to be 
where it is placed. 

His bare principle of the laws of gravitation accounts for 
all the apparent inequalities in the course of the celestial 
globes. The variations of the moon are a necessary conse 
quence of those laws. Moreover, the reason is evidently 
seen why the nodes of the moon perform their revolutions 
in nineteen years, and those of the earth in about twenty- 
six thousand. The several appearances observed in the 
tides are also a very simple effect of this attraction. The 
proximity of the moon, when at the full, and when it is 
new, and its distance in the quadratures or quarters, com 
bined with the action of the sun, exhibit a sensible reason 
why the ocean swells and sinks. 

After having shown by his sublime theory the course and 
inequalities of the planets, he subjects comets to the same 
law. The orbit of these fires (unknown for so great a series 
of years), which was the terror of mankind and the rock 
against which philosophy split, placed by Aristotle below the 
moon, and sent back by Descartes above the sphere of 
Saturn, is at last placed in its proper seat by Sir Isaac 
Newton. 

He proves that cornets are solid bodies which move in the 
sphere of the sun s activity, and that they describe an 
ellipsis so very eccentric, and so near to parabolas, that cer 
tain comets must take up above five hundred years in their 
revolution. 

The learned Dr. Halley is of opinion that the comet seen 
in 1680 is the same which appeared in Julius Caesar s time. 
This shows more than any other that comets are hard, 
opaque bodies; for it descended so near to the sun, as to 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 121 

come within a sixth part of the diameter of this planet from 
it, and consequently might have contracted a degree of heat 
two thousand times stronger than that of red-hot iron; and 
would have been soon dispersed in vapour, had it not been 
a firm, dense body. The guessing the course of comets be 
gan then to be very much in vogue. The celebrated Ber 
noulli concluded by his system that the famous comet of 
1680 would appear again the I7th of May, 1719. Not a 
single astronomer in Europe went to bed that night. How 
ever, they needed not to have broke their rest, for the famous 
comet never appeared. There is at least more cunning, if 
not more certainty, in fixing its return to so remote a dis 
tance as five hundred and seventy-five years. As to Mr. 
Whiston, he affirmed very seriously that in the time of the 
Deluge a comet overflowed the terrestrial globe. And he was 
so unreasonable as to wonder that people laughed at him for 
making such an assertion. The ancients were almost in the 
same way of thinking with Mr. Whiston, and fancied that 
comets were always the forerunners of some great calamity 
which was to befall mankind. Sir Isaac Newton, on the 
contrary, suspected that they are very beneficent, and that 
vapours exhale from them merely to nourish and vivify the 
planets, which imbibe in their course the several particles 
the sun has detached from the comets, an opinion which, at 
least, is more probable than the former. But this is not all. 
If this power of gravitation or attraction acts on all the 
celestial globes, it acts undoubtedly on the several parts of 
these globes. For in case bodies attract one another in pro 
portion to the quantity of matter contained in them, it can 
only be in proportion to the quantity of their parts; and if 
this power is found in the whole, it is undoubtedly in the 
half, in the quarter, in the eighth part, and so on in in- 
finitum. 

This is attraction, the great spring by which all Nature is 
moved. Sir Isaac Newton, after having demonstrated the 
existence of this principle, plainly foresaw that its very name 
would offend; and, therefore, this philosopher, in more places 
than one of his books, gives the reader some caution about 
it. He bids him beware of confounding this name with 
what the ancients called occult qualities, but to be satisfied 



122 



VOLTAIRE 



with knowing that there is in all bodies a central force, 
which acts to the utmost limits of the universe, according to 
the invariable laws of mechanics. 

It is surprising, after the solemn protestations Sir Isaac 
made, that such eminent men as Mr. Sorin and M. de 
Fontenelle should have imputed to this great philosopher the 
verbal and chimerical way of reasoning of the Aristotelians; 
Mr. Sorin in the Memoirs of the Academy of 1709, and M. 
de Fontenelle in the very eulogium of Sir Isaac Newton. 

Most of the French (the learned and others) have re 
peated this reproach. These are for ever crying out, " Why 
did he not employ the word impulsion, which is so well un 
derstood, rather than that of attraction, which is unintelligi 
ble?" 

Sir Isaac might have answered these critics thus : " First, 
you have as imperfect an idea of the word impulsion as of 
that of attraction; and in case you cannot conceive how one 
body tends towards the centre of another body, neither can 
you conceive by what power one body can impel another. 

" Secondly, I could not admit of impulsion ; for to do this 
I must have known that a celestial matter was the agent. 
But so far irom knowing that there is any such matter, I 
have proved it to be merely imaginary. 

" Thirdly, I use the word attraction for no other reason 
but to express an effect which I discovered in Nature a 
certain and indisputable effect of an unknown principle a 
quality inherent in matter, the cause of which persons of 
greater abilities than I can pretend to may, if they can, find 
out." 

"What have you, then, taught us?" will these people say 
further ; " and to what purpose are so many calculations to 
tell us what you yourself do not comprehend?" 

" I have taught you," may Sir Isaac rejoin, " that all bodies 
gravitate towards one another in proportion to their quan 
tity of matter; that these central forces alone keep the 
planets and comets in their orbits, and cause them to move 
in the proportion before set down. I demonstrate to you 
that it is impossible there should be any other cause which 
keeps the planets in their orbits than that general phenome 
non of gravity. For heavy bodies fall on the earth accord- 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 123 

ing to the proportion demonstrated of central forces; and 
the planets finishing their course according to these same 
proportions, in case there were another power that acted 
upon all those bodies, it would either increase their velocity 
or change their direction. Now, not one of those bodies 
ever has a single degree of motion or velocity, or has any 
direction but what is demonstrated to be the effect of the 
central forces. Consequently it is impossible there should 
be any other principle." 

Give me leave once more to introduce Sir Isaac speaking. 
Shall he not be allowed to say, " My case and that of the 
ancients is very different. These saw, for instance, water 
ascend in pumps, and said. the water rises because it abhors 
a vacuum. But with regard to myself, I am in the case of 
a man who should have first observed that water ascends 
in pumps, but should leave others to explain the cause of this 
effect. The anatomist, who f rst declared that the motion of 
the arm is owing to the contraction of the muscles, taught 
mankind an indisputable truth. But are they less obliged 
to him because he did not know the reason why the muscles 
contract? The cause of the elasticity of the air is unknown, 
but he who first discovered this spring performed a very 
signal service to natural philosophy. The spring that I dis 
covered was more hidden and more universal, and for that 
very reason mankind ought to tnank me the more. I have 
discovered a new property of matter one of the secrets of 
the Creator and have calculated and discovered the effects 
of it. After this, shall people quarrel with me about the 
name I give it ? " 

Vortices may be called an occult quality because their ex 
istence was never proved. Attraction, on the contrary, is a 
real thing because its effects are demonstrated, and the pro 
portions of it are calculated. The cause of this cause is 
among the Arcana of the Almighty. 

"Precedes hue, et non amplius" 
(Thus far shalt thou go, and no farther.) 



124 yOLTAIRE 

LETTER XVI 
ON SIR ISAAC NEWTON S OPTICS 

THE philosophers of the last age found out a new universe; 
and a circumstance which made its discovery more difficult 
was that no one had so much as suspected its existence. 
The most sage and judicious were of opinion that it was a 
frantic rashness to dare so much as to imagine that it was 
possible to guess the laws by which the celestial bodies move 
and the manner how light acts. Galileo, by his astronomical 
discoveries, Kepler, by his calculation, Descartes (at least, in 
his dioptrics), and Sir Isaac Newton, in all his works, 
severally saw the mechanism of the springs of the world. 
The geometricians have subjected infinity to the laws of cal 
culation. The circulation of the blood in animals, and of 
the sap in vegetables, have changed the face of Nature with 
regard to us. A new kind of existence has been given to 
bodies in the air-pump. By the assistance of telescopes bodies 
have been brought nearer to one another. Finally, the sev 
eral discoveries which Sir Isaac Newton has made on light 
are equal to the boldest things which the curiosity of man 
could expect after so many philosophical novelties. 

Till Antonio de Dominis the rainbow was considered as 
an inexplicable miracle. This philosopher guessed that it 
was a necessary effect of the sun and rain. Descartes gained 
immortal fame by his mathematical explication of this so 
natural a phenomenon. He calculated the reflections and 
refractions of light in drops of rain. And his sagacity on 
this occasion was at that time looked upon as next to divine. 

But what would he have said had it been proved to him 
that he was mistaken in the nature of light ; that he had not 
the least reason to maintain that it is a globular body ? That 
it is false to assert that this matter, spreading itself through 
the whole, waits only to be projected forward by the sun, in 
order to be put in action, in like manner as a long staff 
acts at one end when pushed forward by the other. That 
light is certainly darted by the sun; in fine, that light is 
transmitted from the sun to the earth in about seven minutes 
though a cannon-ball, which were not to lose any of its 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 125 

velocity, could not go that distance in less than twenty- 
five years How great would have been his astonishment 
had he been told that light does not reflect directly by im 
pinging against the solid parts of bodies, that bodies are 
not transparent when they have large pores, and that a 
man should arise who would demonstrate all these paradoxes, 
and anatomise a single ray of light with more dexterity 
than the ablest artist dissects a human body. This man 
is come. Sir Isaac Newton has demonstrated to the eye, by 
the bare assistance of the prism, that light is a composition 
of coloured rays, which, being united, form white colour. 
A single ray is by him divided into seven, which all fall upon 
a piece of linen, or a sheet of white paper, in their order, 
one above the other, and at unequal distances. The first 
is red, the second orange, the third yellow, the fourth green, 
the fifth blue, the sixth indigo, the seventh a violet-purple. 
Each of these rays, transmitted afterwards by a hundred 
other prisms, will never change the colour it bears; in like 
manner, as gold, when completely purged from its dross, will 
never change afterwards in the crucible. As a superabundant 
proof that each of these elementary rays has inherently 
in itself that which forms its colour to the eye, take a small 
piece of yellow wood, for instance, and set it in the ray of 
a red colour ; this wood will instantly be tinged red. But set 
it in the ray of a green colour, it assumes a green colour, 
and so of all the rest. 

From what cause, therefore, do colo.urs arise in Nature? 
It is nothing but the disposition of bodies to reflect the rays 
of a certain order and to absorb all the rest. 

What, then, is this secret disposition? Sir Isaac Newton 
demonstrates that it is nothing more than the density of the 
small constituent particles of which a body is composed. 
And how is this reflection performed? It was supposed to 
arise from the rebounding of the rays, in the same manner 
as a ball on the surface of a solid body. But this is a mistake, 
for Sir Isaac taught the astonished philosophers that bodies 
are opaque for no other reason but because their pores are- 
large, that light reflects on our eyes from the very bosom 
of those pores, that the smaller the pores of a body are the 
snore such a body is transparent. Thus paper, which reflects 



126 VOLTAIRE 

the light when dry, transmits it when oiled, because the 
oil, by filling its pores, makes them much smaller. 

It is there that examining the vast porosity of bodies, 
every particle having its pores, and every particle of those 
particles having its own, he shows we are not certain that 
there is a cubic inch of solid matter in the universe, so far 
are we from conceiving what matter is. Having thus divided, 
as it were, light into its elements, and carried the sagacity 
of his discoveries so far as to prove the method of distin 
guishing compound colours from such as are primitive, he 
shows that these elementary rays, separated by the prism, 
are ranged in their order for no other reason but because 
they are refracted in that very order; and it is this property 
(unknown till he discovered it) of breaking or splitting in 
this proportion; it is this unequal refraction of rays, this 
power of refracting the red less than the orange colour, &c., 
which he calls the different refrangibility. The most re- 
flexible rays are the most refrangible, and from hence he 
evinces that the same power is the cause both of the reflec 
tion and refraction of light. 

But all these wonders are merely but the opening of his 
discoveries. He found out the secret to see the vibrations 
or fits of light which come and go incessantly, and which 
either transmit light or reflect it, according to the density 
of the parts they meet with. He has presumed to calculate 
the density of the particles of air necessary between two 
glasses, the one flat, the other convex on one side, set one 
upon the other, in order to operate such a transmission or 
reflection, or to form such and such a colour. 

From all these combinations he discovers the proportion 
in which light acts on bodies and bodies act on light. 

He saw light so perfectly, that he has determined to what 
degree of perfection the art of increasing it, and of assist 
ing our eyes by telescopes, can be carried. 

Descartes, from a noble confidence that was very excus 
able, considering how strongly he was fired at the first 
discoveries he made in an art which he almost first found 
out; Descartes, I say, hoped to discover in the stars, by the 
assistance of telescopes, objects as small as those we discern 
upon the earth. 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 127 

But Sir Isaac has shown that dioptric telescopes cannot 
be brought to a greater perfection, because of that refrac 
tion, and of that very refrangibility, which at the same time 
that they bring objects nearer to us, scatter too much the 
elementary rays. He has calculated in these glasses the 
proportion of the scattering of the red and of the blue 
rays; and proceeding so far as to demonstrate things which 
were not supposed even to exist, he examines the inequalities 
which arise from the shape or figure of the glass, and that 
which arises from the refrangibility. He finds that the ob 
ject glass of the telescope being convex on one side and flat 
on the other, in case the flat side be turned towards the ob 
ject, the error which arises from the construction and posi 
tion of the glass is above five thousand times less than the 
error which arises from the refrangibility; and, therefore, 
that the shape or figure of the glasses is not the cause why 
telescopes cannot be carried to a greater perfection, but 
arises wholly from the nature of light. 

For this reason he invented a telescope, which discovers 
objects by reflection, and not by refraction. Telescopes of 
this new kind are very hard to make, and their use is not 
easy; but, according to the English, a reflective telescope of 
but five feet has the same effect as another of a hundred 
feet in length. 

LETTER XVII 

ON INFINITES IN GEOMETRY, AND SIR ISAAC 
NEWTON S CHRONOLOGY 

THE labyrinth and abyss of infinity is also a new course Sir 
Isaac Newton has gone through, and we are obliged to him 
for the clue, by whose assistance we are enabled to trace 
its various windings. 

Descartes got the start of him also in this astonishing 
invention. He advanced with mighty steps in his geometry, 
and was arrived at the very borders of infinity, but went 
no farther. Dr. Wallis, about the middle of the last century, 
was the first who reduced a fraction by a perpetual division 
to an infinite series. 

The Lord Brouncker employed this series to square the 
hyperbola. 



128 VOLTAIRE 

Mercator published a demonstration of this quadrature; 
much about which time Sir Isaac Newton, being then twenty- 
three years of age, had invented a general method, to per 
form on all geometrical curves what had just before been 
tried on the hyperbola. 

It is to this method of subjecting everywhere infinity to 
algebraical calculations, that the name is given of differential 
calculations or of fluxions and integral calculation. It is the 
art of numbering and measuring exactly a thing whose 
existence cannot be conceived. 

And, indeed, would you not imagine that a man laughed 
at you who should declare that there are lines infinitely great 
which form an angle infinitely little? 

That a right line, which is a right line so long as it is 
finite, by changing infinitely little its direction, becomes an 
infinite curve; and that a curve may become infinitely less 
than another curve? 

That there are infinite squares, infinite cubes, and infinites 
of infinites, all greater than one another, and the last but 
one of which is nothing in comparison of the last? 

All these things, which at first appear to be the utmost 
excess of frenzy, are in reality an effort of the sublety and 
extent of the human mind, and the art of finding truths 
which till then had been unknown. 

This so bold edifice is even founded on simple ideas. The 
business is to measure the diagonal of a square, to give the 
area of a curve, to find the square root of a number, which 
has none in common arithmetic. After all, the imagination 
ought not to be startled any more at so many orders of 
infinites than at the so well-known proposition, viz., that 
curve lines may always be made to pass between a circle 
and a tangent, or at that other, namely, that matter is 
divisible in infinitum. These two truths have been demon 
strated many years, and are no less incomprehensible than 
the things we have been speaking of. 

For many years the invention of this famous calculation 
was denied to Sir Isaac Newton. In Germany Mr. Leibnitz 
was considered as the inventor of the differences or moments, 
called fluxions, and Mr. Bernoulli claimed the integral cal 
culus. However, Sir Isaac is now thought to have first 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 129 

made the discovery, and the other two have the glory of 
having once made the world doubt whether it was to be 
ascribed to him or them. Thus some contested with Dr. 
Harvey the invention of the circulation of the blood, as 
others disputed with Mr. Perrault that of the circulation 
of the sap. 

Hartsocher and Leuwenhoek disputed with each other the 
honour of having first seen the vermiculi of which mankind 
are formed. This Hartsocher also contested with Huygens 
the invention of a new method of calculating the distance 
of a fixed star. It is not yet known to what philosopher we 
owe the invention of the cycloid. 

Be this as it will, it is by the help of this geometry 
of infinites that Sir Isaac Newton attained to the most 
sublime discoveries. I am now to speak of another work, 
which, though more adapted to the capacity of the hu 
man mind, does nevertheless display some marks of that 
creative genius with which Sir Isaac Newton was informed 
in all his researches. The work I mean is a chronology of 
a new kind, for what province soever he undertook he was 
sure to change the ideas and opinions received by the rest 
of men. 

Accustomed to unravel and disentangle chaos, he was 
resolved to convey at least some light into that of the fables 
of antiquity which are blended and confounded with history, 
and fix an uncertain chronology. It is true that there is no 
family, city, or nation, but endeavours to remove its original 
as far backward as possible. Besides, the first historians 
were the most negligent in setting down the eras: books 
were infinitely less common than they are at this time, and, 
consequently, authors being not so obnoxious to censure, they 
therefore imposed upon the world with greater impunity; 
and, as it is evident that these have related a great number 
of fictitious particulars, it is probable enough that they also 
gave us several false eras. 

It appeared in general to Sir Isaac that the world was 
five hundred years younger than chronologers declare it to 
be. He grounds his opinion on the ordinary course of 
Nature, and on the observations which astronomers have 
made. 

( E ) HC xxxiv 



13 Q VOLTAIRE 

By the course of Nature we here understand the time that 
every generation of men lives upon the earth. The Egyp 
tians first employed this vague and uncertain method of cal 
culating when they began to write the beginning of their 
history. These computed three hundred and forty-one gener 
ations from Menes to Sethon ; and, having no fixed era, they 
supposed three generations to consist of a hundred years. 
In this manner they computed eleven thousand three hun 
dred and forty years from Menes s reign to that of Sethon. 

The Greeks before they counted by Olympiads followed 
the method of the Egyptians, and even gave a little more ex 
tent to generations, making each to consist of forty years. 

Now, here, both the Egyptians and the Greeks made an 
erroneous computation. It is true, indeed, that, according to 
the usual course of Nature, three generations last about 
a hundred and twenty years; but three reigns are far from 
taking up so many. It is very evident that mankind in 
general live longer than kings are found to reign, so that 
an author who should write a history in which there were no 
dates fixed, and should know that nine kings had reigned 
over a nation ; such a historian would commit a great error 
should he allow three hundred years to these nine monarchs. 
Every generation takes about thirty-six years; every reign 
is, one with the other, about twenty. Thirty kings of Eng 
land have swayed the sceptre from William the Conqueror 
to George I., the years of whose reigns added together 
amount to six hundred and forty-eight years; which, being 
divided equally among the thirty kings, give to every one a 
reign of twenty-one years and a half very near. Sixty- 
three kings of France have sat upon the throne ; these have, 
one with another, reigned about twenty years each. This is 
the usual course of Nature. The ancients, therefore, were 
mistaken when they supposed the durations in general of 
reigns to equal that of generations. They, therefore, al 
lowed too great a number of years, and consequently some 
years must be subtracted from their computation. 

Astronomical observations seem to have lent a still greater 
assistance to our philosopher. He appears to us stronger 
when he fights upon his own ground. 

You know that the earth, besides its annual motion which 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 131 

carries it round the sun from west to east in the space of a 
year, has also a singular revolution which was quite unknown 
till within these late years. Its poles have a very slow ret 
rograde motion from east to west, whence it happens that 
their position every day does not correspond exactly with the 
same point of the heavens. This difference which is so in 
sensible in a year, becomes pretty considerable in time; and 
in threescore and twelve years the difference is found to be 
of one degree, that is to say, the three hundred and sixtieth 
part of the circumference of the whole heaven. Thus after 
seventy-two years the colure of the vernal equinox which 
passed through a fixed star, corresponds with another fixed 
star. Hence it is that the sun, instead of being in that part 
of the heavens in which the Ram was situated in the time of 
Hipparchus, is found to correspond with that part of the 
heavens in which the Bull was situated; and the Twins are 
placed where the Bull then stood. All the signs have changed 
their situation, and yet we still retain the same manner of 
speaking as the ancients did. In this age we say that the sun 
is in the Ram in the spring, from the same principle of con 
descension that we say that the sun turns round. 

Hipparchus was the first among the Greeks who observed 
some change in the constellations with regard to the equi 
noxes, or rather who learnt it from the Egyptians. Philoso 
phers ascribed this motion to the stars; for in those ages 
people were far from imagining such a revolution in the 
earth, which was supposed to be immovable in every re 
spect. They therefore created a heaven in which they fixed 
the several stars, and gave this heaven a particular motion 
by which it was carried towards the east, whilst that all the 
stars seemed to perform their diurnal revolution from east 
to west. To this error they added a second of much greater 
consequence, by imagining that the pretended heaven of the 
fixed stars advanced one degree eastward every hundred 
years. In this manner they were no less mistaken in their 
astronomical calculation than in their system of natural 
philosophy. As for instance, an astronomer in that age 
would have said that the vernal equinox was in the time of 
such and such an observation, in such a sign, and in such a 
star. It has advanced two degrees of each since the time 



132 VOLTAIRE 

that observation was made to the present. Now two de 
grees are equivalent to two hundred years; consequently the 
astronomer who made that observation lived just so many 
years before me. It is certain that an astronomer who had 
argued in this manner would have mistook just fifty-four 
years; hence it is that the ancients, who were doubly 
deceived, made their great year of the world, that is, the 
revolution of the whole heavens, to consist of thirty-six 
thousand years. But the moderns are sensible that this 
imaginary revolution of the heaven of the stars is nothing 
else than the revolution of the poles of the earth, which is 
performed in twenty-five thousand nine hundred years. It 
may be proper to observe transiently in this place, that Sir 
Isaac, by determining the figure of the earth, has very hap 
pily explained the cause of this revolution. 

All this being laid down, the only thing remaining to settle 
chronology is to see through what star the colure of the 
equinoxes passes, and where it intersects at this time the 
ecliptic in the spring; and to discover whether some an 
cient writer does not tell us in what point the ecliptic was 
intersected in his time, by the same colure of the equinoxes. 

Clemens Alexandrinus informs us, that Chiron, who went 
with the Argonauts, observed the constellations at the time 
of that famous expedition, and fixed the vernal equinox to 
the middle of the Ram; the autumnal equinox to the middle 
of Libra; our summer solstice to the middle of Cancer, and 
our winter solstice to the middle of Capricorn. 

A long time after the expedition of the Argonauts, and a 
year before the Peloponnesian war, Methon observed tha 
the point of the summer solstice passed through the eighth 
degree of Cancer. 

Now every sign of the zodiac contains thirty degrees. In 
Chiron s time, the solstice was arrived at the middle of the 
sign, that is to say to the fifteenth degree. A year before the 
Peloponnesian war it was at the eighth, and therefore it hac 
retarded seven degrees. A degree is equivalent to seventy 
two years; consequently, from the beginning of the Pelo 
ponnesian war to the expedition of the Argonauts, there 
is no more than an interval of seven times seventy 
two years, which make five hundred and four years, an< 






LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 133 

not seven hundred years, as the Greeks computed. Thus 
in comparing the position of the heavens at this time 
with their position in that age, we find that the ex 
pedition of the Argonauts ought to be placed about nine 
hundred years before Christ, and not about fourteen hun 
dred; and consequently that the world is not so old by five 
hundred years as it was generally supposed to be. By this 
calculation all the eras are drawn nearer, and the several 
events are found to have happened later than is computed. 
I don t know whether this ingenious system will be favoura 
bly received; and whether these notions will prevail so far 
with the learned, as to prompt them to reform the chronology 
of the world. Perhaps these gentlemen would think it too 
great a condescension to allow one and the same man the 
glory of having improved natural philosophy, geometry, and 
history. This would be a kind of universal monarchy, with 
which the principle of self-love that is in man will scarce 
suffer him to indulge his fellow-creature; and, indeed, at the 
same time that some very great philosophers attacked Sir 
Isaac Newton s attractive principle, others fell upon his 
chronological system. Time, that should discover to which 
of these the victory is due, may perhaps only leave the dis 
pute still more undetermined. 



LETTER XVIII 
ON TRAGEDY 

THE English as well as the Spaniards were possessed of 
theatres at a time when the French had no more than mov 
ing, itinerant stages. Shakspeare, who was considered as 
the Corneille of the first-mentioned nation, was pretty nearly 
contemporary with Lope de Vega, and he created, as it 
were, the English theatre. Shakspeare boasted a strong 
fruitful genius. He was natural and sublime, but had not 
so much as a single spark of good taste, or knew one rule 
of the drama. I will now hazard a random, but, at the 
same time, true reflection, which is, that the great merit of 
this dramatic poet has been the ruin of the English stage. 
There are such beautiful, such noble, such dreadful scenes 



134 VOLTAIRE 

in this writer s monstrous farces, to which the name of 
tragedy is given, that they have always been exhibited with 
great success. Time, which alone gives reputation to 
writers, at last makes their very faults venerable. Most 
of the whimsical gigantic images of this poet, have, through 
length of time (it being a hundred and fifty years since they 
were first drawn) acquired a right of passing for sublime. 
Most of the modern dramatic writers have copied him; 
but the touches and descriptions which are applauded in 
Shakspeare, are hissed at in these writers; and you will 
easily believe that the veneration in which this author i 
held, increases in proportion to the contempt which is 
shown to the moderns. Dramatic writers don t consider 
that they should not imitate him; and the ill-success of 
Shakespeare s imitators produces no other effect, than to 
make him be considered as inimitable. You remember 
that in the tragedy of Othello, Moor of Venice, a most ten 
der piece, a man strangles his wife on the stage; and that 
the poor woman, whilst she is strangling, cries aloud that 
she dies very unjustly. You know that in Hamlet, Prince of 
Denmark, two grave-diggers make a grave, and are all the 
time drinking, singing ballads, and making humorous re 
flections (natural indeed enough to persons of their pro 
fession) on the several skulls they throw up ^ with their 
spades; but a circumstance which will surprise you is, 
that this ridiculous incident has been imitated. In the 
reign of King Charles II., which was that of politeness, 
and the Golden Age of the liberal arts; Otway, in his 
Venice Preserved, introduces Antonio the senator, and 
Naki, his courtesan, in the midst of the horrors of the 
Marquis of Bedemar s conspiracy. Antonio, the super 
annuated senator plays, in his mistress s presence, all the 
apish tricks of a lewd, impotent debauchee, who is quite 
frantic and out of his senses. He mimics a bull and a dog, 
and bites his mistress s legs, who kicks and whips him. 
However, the players have struck these buffooneries (which 
indeed were calculated merely for the dregs of the people) 
out of Otway s tragedy; but they have still left in Shaks 
peare s Julius Casar the jokes of the Roman shoemakers and 
cobblers, who are introduced in the same scene with Brutus 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 135 

and Cassius. You will undoubtedly complain, that those 
who have hitherto discoursed with you on the English stage, 
and especially on the celebrated Shakspeare, have taken 
notice only of his errors; and that no one has translated 
any of those strong, those forcible passages which atone 
for all his faults. But to this I will answer, that nothing 
is easier than to exhibit in prose all the silly impertinences 
which a poet may have thrown out; but that it is a very 
difficult task to translate his fine verses. All your junior 
academical sophs, who set up for censors of the eminent 
writers, compile whole volumes; but methinks two pages 
which display some of the beauties of great geniuses, are 
of infinitely more value than all the idle rhapsodies of those 
commentators ; and I will join in opinion with all persons 
of good taste in declaring, that greater advantage may be 
reaped from a dozen verses of Homer or Virgil, than from 
all the critiques put together which have been made on 
those two great poets. 

I have ventured to translate some passages of the most 
celebrated English poets, and shall now give you one from 
Shakspeare. Pardon the blemishes of the translation for 
the sake of the original; and remember always that when 
you see a version, you see merely a faint print of a beauti 
ful picture. I have made choice of part of the celebrated 
soliloquy in Hamlet, which you may remember is as fol 
lows : 

" To be, or not to be ? that is the question 1 
Whether t is nobler in the mind to suffer 
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, 
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, 
And by opposing, end them ? To die ! to sleep ! 
No more ! and by a sleep to say we end 
The heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks 
That flesh is heir to ! T is a consummation 
Devoutly to be wished. To die ! to sleep ! 
To sleep ; perchance to dream ! Ay, there s the rub ; 
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come 
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, 
Must give us pause. There s the respect 
That makes calamity of so long life : 
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, 
The oppressor s wrong, the poor man s contumely, 
The pangs of despised love, the law s delay, 



136 VOLTAIRE 

The insolence of office, and the spurns 
That patient merit of the unworthy takes, 
When he himself might his quietus make 
With a bare bodkin. Who would fardels bear 
To groan and sweat under a weary life, 
But that the dread of something after death, 
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn 
No traveller returns, puzzles the will, 
And makes us rather bear those ills we have, 
Than fly to others that we know not of ? 
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all ; 
And thus the native hue of resolution 
Is sicklied o er with the pale cast of thought : 
And enterprises of great weight and moment 
With this regard their currents turn awry, 
And lose the name of action " 

My version of it runs thus: 

" Demeure, il faut choisir et passer a 1 instant 
De la vie a la mort, ou de 1 etre au neant. 
Dieux cruels, s il en est, eclairez mon courage. 
Faut-il vieillir courbe sous la main qui m outrage, 
Supporter, ou finir mon malheur et mon sort? 
Qui suis je? Qui m arrete ! et qu est-ce que la mort? 
C est la fin de nos maux, c est mon unique asile 
Apres de longs transports, c est un sommeil tranquile. 
On s endort, et tout meurt, mais un affreux reveil 
Doit succeder peut etre aux douceurs du sommeil ! 
On nous menace, on dit que cette courte vie, 
De tourmens eternels est aussi-tot suivie. 
O mort ! moment fatal ! affreuse eternite ! 
Tout coeur a ton seul nom se glace epouvante. 
Eh ! qui pourroit sans toi supporter cette vie, 
De nos pretres menteurs benir 1 hypocrisie ; 
D une indigne maitresse encenser les erreurs, 
Ramper sous un ministre, adorer ses hauteurs ; 
Et montrer les langueurs de son ame abattue, 
A des amis ingrats qui detournent la viie? 
La mort seroit trop douce en ces extremitez, 
Mais le scrupule parle, et nous crie, arretez ; 
II defend a nos mains cet heureux homicide 
Et d un heros guerrier, fait un Chretien timide," &c. 

Do not imagine that I have translated Shakspeare in 
a servile manner. Woe to the writer who gives a literal 
version; who by rendering every word of his original, by 
that very means enervates the sense, and extinguishes all 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 137 

the fire of it. It is on such an occasion one may justly 
affirm, that the letter kills, but the Spirit quickens. 

Here follows another passage copied from a celebrated 
tragic writer among the English. It is Dryden, a poet 
in the reign of Charles II. a writer whose genius was 
too exuberant, and not accompanied with judgment enough. 
Had he written only a tenth part of the works he left 
behind him, his character would have been conspicuous in 
every part; but his great fault is his having endeavoured 
to be universal. 

The passage in question is as follows: 

" When I consider life, t is all a cheat, 
Yet fooled by hope, men favour the deceit; 
Trust on and think, to-morrow will repay; 
To-morrow s falser than the former day ; 
Lies more ; and whilst it says we shall be blest 
With some new joy, cuts off what we possessed; 
Strange cozenage ! none would live past years again, 
Yet all hope pleasure in what yet remain, 
And from the dregs of life think to receive 
What the first sprightly running could not give. 
I m tired with waiting for this chymic gold, 
Which fools us young, and beggars us when old." 

I shall now give you my translation: 

" De desseins en regrets et d erreurs en desirs 
Les mortels insenses promenent leur folie. 
Dans des malheurs presents, dans 1 espoir des plaisirs 
Nous ne vivons jamais, nous attendons la vie. 
Demain, demain, dit-on, va combler tous nos voeux. 
Demain vient, et nous laisse encore plus malheureux. 
Quelle est 1 erreur, helas ! du soin qui nous devore, 
Nul de nous ne voudroit recommencer son cours. 
De nos premiers momens nous maudissons 1 aurore, 
Et de la nuit qui vient nous attendons encore, 
Ce qu ont en vain promis les plus beaux de nos jours," &c. 

It is in these detached passages that the English have 
hitherto excelled. Their dramatic pieces, most of which are 
barbarous and without decorum, order, or verisimilitude, 
dart such resplendent flashes through this gleam, as amaze 
and astonish. The style is too much inflated, too unnatural, 
too closely copied from the Hebrew writers, who abound 
so much with the Asiatic fustian. But then it must be also 



138 VOLTAIRE 

confessed that the stilts of the figurative style, on which 
the English tongue is lifted up, raises the genius at the same 
time very far aloft, though with an irregular pace. The 
first English writer who composed a regular tragedy, and 
infused a spirit of elegance through every part of it, was 
the illustrious Mr. Addison. His " Cato " is a masterpiece, 
both with regard to the diction and to the beauty and har 
mony of the numbers. The character of Cato is, in my 
opinion, vastly superior to that of Cornelia in the " Pompey " 
of Corneille, for Cato is great without anything like fus 
tian, and Cornelia, who besides is not a necessary character, 
tends sometimes to bombast. Mr. Addison s Cato appears 
to me the greatest character that was ever brought upon 
any stage, but then the rest of them do not correspond to 
the dignity of it, and this dramatic piece, so excellently 
well writ, is disfigured by a dull love plot, which spreads 
a certain languor over the whole, that quite murders it. 

The custom of introducing love at random and at any 
rate in the drama passed from Paris to London about 1660, 
with our ribbons and our perruques. The ladies who 
adorn the theatrical circle there, in like manner as in this 
city will suffer love only to be the theme of every conversa 
tion. The judicious Mr. Addison had the effeminate com 
plaisance to soften the severity of his dramatic character, 
so as to adapt it to the manners of the age, and, from- an 
endeavour to please, quite ruined a masterpiece in its kind. 
Since his time the drama is become more regular, the 
audience more difficult to be pleased, and writers more 
correct and less bold. I have seen some new pieces that 
were written with great regularity, but which, at the same 
time, were very flat and insipid. One would think that the 
English had been hitherto formed to produce irregular 
beauties only. The shining monsters of Shakspeare give 
infinite more delight than the judicious images of the 
moderns. Hitherto the poetical genius of the English re 
sembles a tufted tree planted by the hand of Nature, that 
throws out a thousand branches at random, and spreads 
unequally, but with great vigour. It dies if you attempt 
to force its nature, and to lop and dress it in the same man 
ner as the trees of the Garden of Marli. 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 139 

LETTER XIX 
ON COMEDY 

I AM surprised that the judicious and ingenious Mr. de 
Muralt, who has published some letters on the English and 
French nations, should have confined himself, in treating 
of comedy, merely to censure Shadwell the comic writer. 
This author was had in pretty great contempt in Mr. de 
Muralt s time, and was not the poet of the polite part of 
the nation. His dramatic pieces, which pleased some time 
in acting, were despised by all persons of taste, and might 
be compared to many plays which I have seen in France, 
that drew crowds to the play-house, at the same time that 
they were intolerable to read; and of which it might be 
said, that the whole city of Paris exploded them, and yet 
all flocked to see them represented on the stage. Me- 
thinks Mr. de Muralt should have mentioned an excellent 
comic writer (living when he was in England), I mean 
Mr. Wycherley, who was a long time known publicly to be 
happy in the good graces of the most celebrated mistress 
of King Charles II. This gentleman, who passed his life 
among persons of the highest distinction, was perfectly 
well acquainted with their lives and their follies, and painted 
them with the strongest pencil, and in the truest colours. 
He has drawn a misanthrope or man-hater, in imitation 
of that of Moliere. All Wycherley s strokes are stronger 
and bolder than those of our misanthrope, but then they 
are less delicate, and the rules of decorum are not so well 
observed in this play. The English writer has corrected 
the only defect that is in Moliere s comedy, the thinness of 
the plot, which also is so disposed that the characters in it 
do not enough raise our concern. The English comedy 
affects us, and the contrivance of the plot is very ingenious, 
but at the same time it is too bold for the French manners. 
The fable is this: A captain of a man-of-war, who is very 
brave, open-hearted, and inflamed with a spirit of contempt 
for all mankind, has a prudent, sincere friend, whom he 
yet is suspicious of. and a mistress that loves him with the 
utmost excess of passion. The captain so far from return- 



14 Q VOLTAIRE 

ing her love, will not even condescend to look upon her, 
but confides entirely in a false friend, who is the most 
worthless wretch living. At the same time he has given his 
heart to a creature, who is the greatest coquette and the 
most perfidious of her sex, and he is so credulous as to 
be confident she is a Penelope, and his false friend a 
Cato. He embarks on board his ship in order to go and 
fight the Dutch, having left all his money, his jewels, and 
everything he had in the world to this virtuous creature, 
whom at the same time he recommends to the care of his 
supposed faithful friend. Nevertheless the real man of 
honour, whom he suspects so unaccountably, goes on board 
the ship with him, and the mistress, on whom he would 
not bestow so much as one glance, disguises herself in the 
habit of a page, and is with him the whole voyage, with 
out his once knowing that she is of a sex different from that 
she attempts to pass for, which, by the way, is not over 
natural. 

The captain having blown up his own ship m an < 
gagement, returns to England abandoned and undone, ac 
companied by his page and his friend, without knowing 
the friendship of the one or the tender passion of the 
other. Immediately he goes to the jewel among women, 
who he expected had preserved her fidelity to him and the 
treasure he had left in her hands. He meets with her 
indeed, but married to the honest knave in whom he had 
reposed so much confidence, and finds she had acted as 
treacherously with regard to the casket he had entrusted 
her with. The captain can scarce think it possible that a 
woman of virtue and honour can act so vile a part; but to 
convince him still more of the reality of it, this very worthy 
lady falls in love with the little page, and will force him to 
her embraces. But as it is requisite justice should be 
done, and that in a dramatic piece virtue ought to be re 
warded and vice punished, it is at last found that the captain 
takes his page s place and lies with his faithless mistress, 
cuckolds his treacherous friend, thrusts his sword through 
his body, recovers his casket, and marries his page. You 
will observe that this play is also larded with a petulant, 
litigious old woman (a relation of the captain), who is 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 141 

the most comical character that was ever brought upon the 
stage. 

Wycherley has also copied from Moliere another play, 
of as singular and bold a cast, which is a .kind of Ecole des 
Femmes, or, School for Married Women. 

The principal character in this comedy is one Horner, 
a sly fortune hunter, and the terror of all the City hus 
bands. This fellow, in order to play a surer game, causes 
a report to be spread, that in his last illness, the surgeons 
had found it necessary to have him made a eunuch. Upon 
his appearing in this noble character, all the husbands in 
town flocked to him with their wives, and now poor Horner 
is only puzzled about his choice. However, he gives the 
preference particularly to a little female peasant, a very 
harmless, innocent creature, who enjoys a fine flush of 
health, and cuckolds her husband with a simplicity that 
has infinitely more merit than the witty malice of the most 
experienced ladies. This play cannot indeed be called the 
school of good morals, but it is certainly the school of wit 
and true humour. 

Sir John Vanbrugh has written several comedies, which 
are more humorous than those of Mr. Wycherley, but not 
so ingenious. Sir John was a man of pleasure, and like 
wise a poet and an architect. The general opinion is, 
that he is as sprightly in his writings as he is heavy in 
his buildings. It is he who raised the famous Castle of 
Blenheim, a ponderous and lasting monument of our unfor 
tunate Battle of Hochstet. Were the apartments but as 
spacious as the walls are thick, this castle would be com 
modious enough. Some wag, in an epitaph he made on Sir 
John Vanbrugh, has these lines: 

" Earth lie light on him, for he 
Laid many a heavy load on thee." 

Sir John having taken a tour into France before the 
glorious war that broke out in 1701, was thrown into the 
Bastille, and detained there for some time, without being 
ever able t3 discover the motive which had prompted our 
ministry to indulge him with this mark of their distinction. 
He wrote a comedy during his confinement; and a cir- 



142 VOLTAIRE 

cumstance which appears to me very extraordinary is, that 
we don t meet with so much as a single satirical stroke 
against the country in which he had been so injuriously 
treated. 

The late Mr. Congreve raised the glory of comedy to a 
greater height than any English writer before or since his 
time. He wrote only a few plays, but they are all ex 
cellent in their kind. The laws of the drama are strictly 
observed in them ; they abound with characters all which are 
shadowed with the utmost delicacy, and we don t meet with 
so much as one low or coarse jest. The language is every 
where that of men of honour, but their actions are those 
of knaves a proof that he was perfectly well acquainted 
with human nature, and frequented what we call polite com 
pany. He was infirm and come to the verge of life when I 
knew him. Mr. Congreve had one defect, which was his 
entertaining too mean an idea of his first profession (that 
of a writer), though it was to this he owed his fame and 
fortune. He spoke of his works as of trifles that were 
beneath him; and hinted to me, in our first conversation, 
that I should visit him upon no other footing than that of 
a gentleman who led a life of plainness and simplicity. I 
answered, that had he been so unfortunate as to be a mere 
gentleman, I should never have come to see him; and I 
was very much disgusted at so unseasonable a piece of 
vanity. 

Mr. Congreve s comedies are the most witty and regular, 
those of Sir John Vanbrugh most gay and humorous, and 
those of Mr. Wycherley have the greatest force and spirit. 
It may be proper to observe that these fine geniuses never 
spoke disadvantageous^ of Moliere; and that none but 
the contemptible writers among the English have en 
deavoured to lessen the character of that great comic poet. 
Such Italian musicians as despise Lully are themselves per 
sons of no character or ability ; but a Buononcini esteems 
that great artist, and does justice to his merit. 

The English have some other good comic writers living, 
such as Sir Richard Steele and Mr. Gibber, who is an 
excellent player, and also Poet Laureate a t tie which, 
how ridiculous soever it may be thought, is yet worth a 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 143 

thousand crowns a year (besides some considerable 
privileges) to the person who enjoys it. Our illustrious 
Corneille had not so much. 

To conclude. Don t desire me to descend to particulars 
with regard to these English comedies, which I am so fond 
of applauding; nor to give you a single smart saying or 
humorous stroke from Wycherley or Congreve. We don t 
laugh in reading a translation. If you have a mind to 
understand the English comedy, the only way to do this 
will be for you to go to England, to spend three years in 
London, to make yourself master of the English tongue, 
and to frequent the playhouse every night. I receive but 
little pleasure from the perusal of Aristophanes and Plautus, 
and for this reason because I am neither a Greek nor 
a Roman. The delicacy of the humour, the allusion, the 
a propos all these are lost to a foreigner. 

But it is different with respect to tragedy, this treating 
only of exalted passions and heroical follies, which the 
antiquated errors of fable or history have made sacred. 
(Edipus, Electra, and such-like characters, may with as 
much propriety be treated of by the Spaniards, the English, 
or us, as by the Greeks. But true comedy is the speaking 
picture of the follies and ridiculous foibles of a nation; so 
that he only is able to judge of the painting who is perfectly 
acquainted with the people it represents. 

LETTER XX 

ON SUCH OF THE NOBILITY AS CULTIVATE 
THE BELLES LETTRES 

THERE once was a time in France when the polite arts 
were cultivated by persons of the highest rank in the state. 
The courtiers particularly were conversant in them, al 
though indolence, a taste for trifles, and a passion for 
intrigue, were the divinities of the country. The Court me- 
thinks at this time seems to have given into a taste quite 
opposite to that of polite literature, but perhaps the mode 
of thinking may be revived in a little time. The French are 
of so flexible a disposition, may be moulded into such a 



144 VOLTAIRE 

variety of shapes, that the monarch needs but command 
and he is immediately obeyed. The English generally think, 
and learning is had in greater honour among them than in 
our country an advantage that results naturally from the 
form of their government. There are about eight hundred 
persons in England who have a right to speak in public, 
and to support the interest of the kingdom and near five or 
six thousand may in their turns aspire to the same honour. 
The whole nation set themselves up as judges over these, 
and every man has the liberty of publishing his thoughts 
with regard to public affairs, which shows that all the people 
in general are indispensably obliged to cultivate their 
understandings. In England the governments of Greece 
and Rome are the subject of every conversation, so that 
every man is under a necessity of perusing such authors 
as treat of them, how disagreeable soever it may be to 
him; and this study leads naturally to that of polite litera 
ture. Mankind in general speak well in their respective 
professions. What is the reason why our magistrates, our 
lawyers, our physicians, and a great number of the clergy, 
are abler scholars, have a finer taste, and more wit, than 
persons of all other professions ? The reason is, because 
their condition of life requires a cultivated and enlightened 
mind, in the same manner as a merchant is obliged to be 
acquainted with his traffic. Not long since an English 
nobleman, who was very young, came to see me at Paris 
on his return from Italy. He had written a poetical 
description of that country, which, for delicacy and polite 
ness, may vie with anything we meet with in the Earl of 
Rochester, or in our Chaulieu, our Sarrasin, or Chapelle. 
The translation I have given of it is so inexpressive of the 
strength and delicate humour of the original, that I am 
obliged seriously to ask pardon of the author and of all 
who understand English. However, as this is the only 
method I have to make his lordship s verses known, I 
shall here present you with them in our tongue : 

" Qu ay je done vu dans 1 Italie? 
Orgueil, astuce, et pauvrete, 
Grands complimens, peu de bonte 
Et beaucoup de ceremonie. 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 145 

" L extravagante comedie 
Que souvent 1 Inquisition 
Veut qu on nomme religion 
Mais qu ici nous nommons folie. 

" La Nature en vain bienfaisante 
Veut enricher ses lieux charmans, 
Des pretres la main desolante 
Etouffe ses plus beaux presens. 

" Les monsignors, soy disant Grands, 
Seuls dans leurs palais magnifiques 
Y sont d illustres faineants, 
Sans argent, et sans domestiques. 

" Pour les petits, sans liberte, 
Martyrs du joug qui les domine, 
Us ont fait voeu de pauvrete, 
Priant Dieu par oisivete 
Et tou jours jeunant par famine. 

" Ces beaux lieux du Pape benis 
Semblent habitez par les diables ; 
Et les habitans miserables 
Sont damnes dans le Paradis." 



LETTER XXI 
ON THE EARL OF ROCHESTER AND MR. WALLER 

THE Earl of Rochester s name is universally known. Mr. 
de St. Evremont has made very frequent mention of him, 
but then he has represented this famous nobleman in no 
other light than as the man of pleasure, as one who was 
the idol of the fair; but, with regard to myself, I would 
willingly describe in him the man of genius, the great poet. 
Among other pieces which display the shining imagination 
his lordship only could boast, he wrote some satires on the 
same subjects as those our celebrated Boileau made choice 
of. I do not know any better method of improving the taste 
than to compare the productions of such great geniuses as 
have exercised their talent on the same subject. Boileau 
declaims as follows against human reason in his " Satire 
on Man :" 



146 VOLTAIRE 

" Cependant a le voir plein de vapeurs legeres, 
Soi-meme se bercer de ses propres chimeres, 
Lui seul de la nature est la baze et 1 appui, 
Et le dixieme ciel ne tourne que pour lui. 
De tous les animaux il est ici le maitre ; 
Qui pourroit le nier, poursuis tu? Moi peut-etre. 
Ce maitre pretendu qui leur donne des loix, 
Ce roi des animaux, combien a-t il de rois ? " 

" Yet, pleased with idle whimsies of his brain, 
And puffed with pride, this haughty thing would fain 
Be think himself the only stay and prop 
That holds the mighty frame of Nature up. 
The skies and stars his properties must seem, 

******** 
Of all the creatures he s the lord, he cries. 



And who is there, say you, that dares deny 
So owned a truth? That may be, sir, do I. 

This boasted monarch of the world who awes 
The creatures here, and with his nod gives laws 
This self-named king, who thus pretends to be 
The lord of all, how many lords has he ? " 

OLDHAM, a little altered. 

The Lord Rochester expresses himself, in his " Satire 
against Man," in pretty near the following manner. But 
I must first desire you always to remember that the ver 
sions I give you from the English poets are written with 
freedom and latitude, and that the restraint of our versi 
fication, and the delicacies of the French tongue, will not 
allow a translator to convey into it the licentious im 
petuosity and fire of the English numbers: 

" Cet esprit que je hais, cet esprit plein d erreur, 
Ce n est pas ma raison, c est la tienne, docteur. 
C est la raison frivole, inquiete, orgueilleuse 
Des sages animaux, rivale dedaigneuse, 
Qui croit entr eux et 1 Ange, occuper le milieu, 
Et pense etre ici bas 1 image de son Dieu. 
Vil atome imparfait, qui croit, doute, dispute 
Rampe, s eleve, tombe, et nie encore sa chute, 
Qui nous dit je suis libre, en nous montrant ses fers, 
Et dont 1 ceil trouble et faux, croit percer 1 univers. 
Allez, reverends fous, bienheureux fanatiques, 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 14"; 

Compilez bien 1 amas de vos riens scholastiques, 

Peres de visions, et d enigmes sacres, 

Auteurs du labirinthe, ou vous vous egarez. 

Allez obscurement eclaircir vos misteres, 

Et courez dans 1 ecole adorer vos chimeres. 

II est d autres erreurs, il est de ces devots 

Condamne par eux memes a 1 ennui du repos. 

Ce mystique encloitre, fier de son indolence 

Tranquille, au sein de Dieu. Que peut il faire ? II pense. 

Non, tu ne penses point, miserable, tu dors : 

Inutile a la terre, et mis au rang des morts. 

Ton esprit enerve croupit dans la molesse. 

Reveille toi, sois homme, et sors de ton ivresse. 

L homme est ne pour agir, et tu pretens penser ? " &c. 

The original runs thus: 

" Hold mighty man, I cry all this we know, 
And tis this very reason I despise, 
This supernatural gift that makes a mite 
Think he s the image of the Infinite ; 
Comparing his short life, void of all rest, 
To the eternal and the ever blest. 
This busy, puzzling stirrer up of doubt, 
That frames deep mysteries, then finds them out, 
Filling, with frantic crowds of thinking fools, 
Those reverend bedlams, colleges, and schools ; 
Borne on whose wings each heavy sot can pierce 
The limits of the boundless universe. 
So charming ointments make an old witch fly, 
And bear a crippled carcass through the sky. 
Tis this exalted power, whose business lies 
In nonsense and impossibilities. 
This made a whimsical philosopher 
Before the spacious world his tub prefer ; 
And we have modern cloistered coxcombs, who 
Retire to think, cause they have naught to do. 
But thoughts are given for action s government, 
Where action ceases, thought s impertinent." 

Whether these ideas are true or false, it is certain they 
are expressed with an energy and fire which form the poet. 
I shall be very far from attempting to examine philosophi 
cally into these verses, to lay down the pencil, and take up 
the rule and compass on this occasion; my only design 
in this letter being to display the genius of the English 
poets, and therefore I shall continue in the same view. 

The celebrated Mr. Waller has been very much talked 



148 VOLTAIRE 

of in France, and Mr. de la Fontaine, St. Evremont, and 
Bayle have written his eulogium, but still his name only 
is known. He had much the same reputation in London as 
Voiture had in Paris, and in my opinion deserved it better. 
Voiture was born in an age that was just emerging from 
barbarity; an age that was still rude and ignorant, the 
people of which aimed at wit, though they had not the least 
pretensions to it, and sought for points and conceits instead 
of sentiments. Bristol stones are more easily found than 
diamonds. Voiture, born with an easy and frivolous genius, 
was the first who shone in this aurora of French literature. 
Had he come into the world after those great geniuses who 
spread such a glory over the age of Louis XIV., he would 
either have been unknown, would have been despised, or 
would have corrected his style. Boileau applauded him, 
but it was in his first satires, at a time when the taste of 
that great poet was not yet formed. He was young, and 
in an age when persons form a judgment of men from their 
reputation, and not from their writings. Besides, Boileau 
was very partial both in his encomiums and his censures. 
He applauded Segrais, whose works nobody reads; he 
abused Quinault, whose poetical pieces every one has got 
by heart; and is wholly silent upon La Fontaine. Waller, 
though a better poet than Voiture, was not yet a finished 
poet. The graces breathe in such of Waller s works as are 
writ in a tender strain; but then they are languid through 
negligence, and often disfigured with false thoughts. The 
English had not in his time attained the art of correct 
writing. But his serious compositions exhibit a strength 
and vigour which could not have been expected from the 
softness and effeminacy of his other pieces. He wrote an 
elegy on Oliver Cromwell, which, with all its faults, is 
nevertheless looked upon as a masterpiece. To understand 
this copy of verses you are to know that the day Oliver 
died was remarkable for a great storm. His poem begins 
in this manner: 

" II n est plus, s en est fait, soumettons nous au sort, 
Le ciel a signale ce jour par des tempetes, 
Et la voix des tonnerres eclatant sur nos tetes 
Vient d annoncer sa mort. 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 149 

" Par ses derniers soupirs il ebranle cet lie ; 
Cet lie que son bras fit trembler tant de fois, 
Quand dans le cours de ses exploits, 
II brisoit la tete des Rois, 
Et soumettoit un peuple a son joug seul docile. 

" Mer tu t en es trouble ; O mer tes flots emus 
Semblent dire en grondant aux plus lointains rivages 
Que 1 effroi de la terre et ton maitre n est plus. 

" Tel au ciel autrefois s envola Romulus, 
Tel il quitta la Terre, au milieu des orages, 
Tel d un peuple guerrier il rec,ut les homages ; 
Obei dans sa vie, a sa mort adore, 
Son palais fut un Temple," &c. 

" We must resign ! heaven his great soul does claim 
In storms as loud as his immortal fame ; 
His dying groans, his last breath shakes our isle, 
And trees uncut fall for his funeral pile : 
About his palace their broad roots are tost 
Into the air ; so Romulus was lost ! 
New Rome in such a tempest missed her king, 
And from obeying fell to worshipping. 
On (Eta s top thus Hercules lay dead, 
With ruined oaks and pines about him spread. 
Nature herself took notice of his death, 
And, sighing, swelled the sea with such a breath, 
That to remotest shores the billows rolled, 
Th approaching fate of his great ruler told." 

WALLER. 

It was this eulogium that gave occasion to the reply (taken 
notice of in Bayle s Dictionary), which Waller made to 
King Charles II. This king, to whom Waller had a little 
before (as is usual with bards and monarchs) presented a 
copy of verses embroidered with praises, reproached the 
poet for not writing with so much energy and fire as when 
he had applauded the Usurper (meaning Oliver). "Sir," 
replied Waller to the king, " we poets succeed better in 
fiction than in truth." This answer was not so sincere as 
that which a Dutch Ambassador made, who, when the same 
monarch complained that his masters paid less regard to 
him than they had done to Cromwell : "Ah, sir !" says 
the Ambassador, " Oliver was quite another man " 



150 VOLTAIRE 

It is not my intent to give a commentary on Waller s 
character, nor on that of any other person; for I consider 
men after their death in no other light than as they were 
writers, and wholly disregard everything else. I shall only 
observe that Waller, though born in a Court, and to an 
estate of five or six thousand pounds sterling a year, was 
never so proud or so indolent as to lay aside the happy 
talent which Nature had indulged him. The Earls of 
Dorset and Roscommon, the two Dukes of Buckingham, 
the Lord Halifax, and so many other noblemen, did not 
think the reputation they obtained of very great poets and 
illustrious writers, any way derogatory to their quality. 
They are more glorious for their works than for their titles. 
These cultivated the polite arts w r ith as much assiduity as 
though they had been their whole dependence. They also 
have made learning appear venerable in the eyes of the 
vulgar, who have need to be led in all things by the great; 
and who, nevertheless, fashion their manners less after 
those of the nobility (in England I mean) than in any other 
country in the world. 



LETTER XXII 
ON MR. POPE AND SOME OTHER FAMOUS POETS 

I INTENDED to treat of Mr. Prior, one of the most amiable 
English poets, whom you saw Plenipotentiary and Envoy 
Extraordinary at Paris in 1712. I also designed to have 
given you some idea of the Lord Roscommon s and the Lord 
Dorset s muse; but I find that to do this I should be obliged 
to write a large volume, and that, after much pains and 
trouble, you would have but an imperfect idea of all those 
works. Poetry is a kind of music in which a man should 
have some knowledge before he pretends to judge of it. 
When I give you a translation of some passages from those 
foreign poets, I only prick down, and that imperfectly, their 
music; but then I cannot express the taste of their harmony. 

There is one English poem especially which I should 
despair of ever making you understand, the title whereof is 
" Hudibras." The subject of it is the Civil War in the 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 151 

time of the grand rebellion, and the principles and practice 
of the Puritans are therein ridiculed. It is Don Quixote, 
it is our " Satire Menippee " blended together. I never 
found so much wit in one single book as in that, which at 
the same time is the most difficult to be translated. Who 
would believe that a work which paints in such lively and 
natural colours the several foibles and follies of mankind, 
and where we meet with more sentiments than words, should 
baffle the endeavours of the ablest translator? But the 
reason of this is, almost every part of it alludes to par 
ticular incidents. The clergy are there made the principal 
object of ridicule, which is understood but by few among the 
laity. To explain this a commentary would be requisite, and 
humour when explained is no longer humour. \ Whoever 
sets up for a commentator of smart sayings and repartees 
is himself a blockhead. This is the reason why the works 
of the ingenious Dean Swift, who has been called the Eng 
lish Rabelais, will never be well understood in France. This 
gentleman has the honour (in common with Rabelais) of 
being a priest, and, like him, laughs at everything; but, in 
my humble opinion, the title of the English Rabelais which 
is given the dean is highly derogatory to his genius. The 
former has interspersed his unaccountably fantastic and 
unintelligible book with the most gay strokes of humour; but 
which at the same time, has a greater proportion of imper 
tinence. He has been vastly lavish of erudition, of smut, 
and insipid raillery. An agreeable tale of two pages is pur 
chased at the expense of whole volumes of nonsense. There 
are but few persons, and those of a grotesque taste, who 
pretend to understand and to esteem this work; for, as to 
the rest of the nation, they laugh at the pleasant and diverting 
touches which are found in Rabelais and despise his book. 
He is looked upon as the prince of buffoons. The readers 
are vexed to think that a man who was master of so much 
wit should have made so wretched a use of it; he is an in 
toxicated philosopher who never wrote but when he was in 
liquor. 

Dean Swift is Rabelais in his senses, and frequently the 
politest company. The former, indeed, is not so gay as the 
latter, but then he possesses all the delicacy, the justness, the 



152 VOLTAIRE 

choice, the good taste, in all which particulars our giggling 
rural Vicar Rabelais is wanting. The poetical numbers of 
Dean Swift are of a singular and almost inimitable taste; 
true humour, whether in prose or verse, seems to be his pe 
culiar talent; but whoever is desirous of understanding him 
perfectly must visit the island in which he was born. 

It will be much easier for you to form an idea of Mr. 
Pope s works. He is, in my opinion, the most elegant, the 
most correct poet; and, at the same time, the most harmoni 
ous (a circumstance which redounds very much to the 
honour of this muse) that England ever gave birth to. He 
has mellowed the harsh sounds of the English trumpet to 
the soft accents of the flute. His compositions may be 
easily translated, because they are vastly clear and perspicu 
ous; besides, most of his subjects are general, and relative 
to all nations. 

His " Essay on Criticism " will soon be known in France 
by the translation which 1 Abbe de Renel has made of it. 

Here is an extract from his poem entitled the " Rape of 
the Lock," which I just now translated with the latitude I 
usually take on these occasions ; for, once again, nothing 
can be more ridiculous than to translate a poet literally : 

" Umbriel, a 1 instant, vieil gnome rechigne, 

Va d une aile pesante et d un air renfrogne 

Chercher en murmurant la caverne profonde, 

Ou loin des doux raiions que repand 1 oeil du monde 

La Deesse aux Vapeurs a choisi son sejour, 

Les Tristes Aquilons y sifflent a 1 entour, 

Et le souffle mal sain de leur aride haleine 

Y porte aux environs la fievre et la migraine. 

Sur un riche sofa derriere un paravent 

Loin des flambeaux, du bruit, des parleurs et du vent, 

La quinteuse deesse incessamment repose, 

Le coeur gros de chagrin, sans en savoir la cause. 

N aiant pense jamais, 1 esprit toujours trouble, 

L ceil charge, le teint pale, et 1 hypocondre enfle. 

La medisante Envie, est assise aupres d elle, 

Vieil spectre feminin, decrepite pucelle, 

Avec un air devot dechirant son prochain, 

Et chansonnant les Gens 1 Evangile a la main. 

Sur un lit plein de fleurs negligemment panchee 

Une jeune beaute non loin d elle est couchee, 

C est 1 Affectation qui grassale en parlant, 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 153 

Ecoute sans entendre, et lorgne en regardant. 
Qui rougit sans pudeur, et rit de tout sans joie, 
De cent maux differens pretend qu elle est la proie; 
Et pleine de sante sous le rouge et le fard, 
Se plaint avec molesse, et se pame avec art." 

* Umbriel, a dusky, melancholy sprite 
As ever sullied the fair face of light, 
Down to the central earth, his proper scene, 
Repairs to search the gloomy cave of Spleen. 
Swift on his sooty pinions flits the gnome, 
And in a vapour reached the dismal dome. 
No cheerful breeze this sullen region knows, 
The dreaded east is all the wind that blows. 
Here, in a grotto, sheltered close from air, 
And screened in shades from day s detested glare, 
She sighs for ever on her pensive bed, 
Pain at her side, and Megrim at her head, 
Two handmaids wait the throne. Alike in place, 
But differing far in figure and in face, 
Here stood Ill-nature, like an ancient maid, 
Her wrinkled form in black and white arrayed ; 
With store of prayers for mornings, nights, and noons, 
Her hand is filled ; her bosom with lampoons. 
There Affectation, with a sickly mien, 
Shows in her cheek the roses of eighteen, 
Practised to lisp, and hang the head aside, 
Faints into airs, and languishes with pride; 
On the rich quilt sinks with becoming woe, 
Wrapt in a gown, for sickness and for show." 

This extract, in the original (not in the faint translation 
I have given you of it), may be compared to the description 
of La Molesse (softness or effeminacy), in Boileau s 
" Lutrin." 

Methinks I now have given you specimens enough from 
the English poets. I have made some transient mention of 
their philosophers, but as for good historians among them, 
I don t know of any; and, indeed, a Frenchman was forced 
to write their history. Possibly the English genius, which 
is either languid or impetuous, has not yet acquired that un 
affected eloquence, that plain but majestic air which his 
tory requires. Possibly too, the spirit of party which exhibits 
objects in a dim and confused light may have sunk the credit 
of their historians. One half of the nation is always at 
variance with the other half. I have met with people who 



!S4 VOLTAIRE 

assured me that the Duke of Marlborough was a coward, 
and that Mr. Pope was a fool; just as some Jesuits in 
France declare Pascal to have been a man of little or no 
genius, and some Jansenists affirm Father Bourdaloiie to have 
been a mere babbler. The Jacobites consider Mary Queen 
of Scots as a pious heroine, but those of an opposite party 
look upon her as a prostitute, an adulteress, a murderer. 
Thus the English have memorials of the several reigns, but 
no such thing as a history. There is, indeed, now living, 
one Mr. Gordon (the public are obliged to him for a trans 
lation of Tacitus), who is very capable of writing the his 
tory of his own country, but Rapin de Thoyras got the start 
of him. To conclude, in my opinion the English have not 
such good historians as the French, have no such thing as a 
real tragedy, have several delightful comedies, some wonder 
ful passages in certain of their poems, and boast of philoso 
phers that are worthy of instructing mankind. The English 
have reaped very great benefit from the writers of our na 
tion, and therefore we ought (since they have not scrupled 
to be in our debt) to borrow from them. Both the English 
and we came after the Italians, who have been our in 
structors in all the arts, and whom we have surpassed in 
some. I cannot determine which of the three nations ought 
to be honoured with the palm; but happy the writer who 
could display their various merits. 



LETTER XXIII 

ON THE REGARD THAT OUGHT TO BE SHOWN TO 
MEN OF LETTERS 

NEITHER the English nor any other people have foundations 
established in favour of the polite arts like those in France. 
There are Universities in most countries, but it is in France 
only that we meet with so beneficial an encouragement for 
astronomy and all parts of the mathematics, for physic, for 
researches into antiquity, for painting, sculpture, and archi 
tecture. Louis XIV. has immortalised his name by these 
several foundations, and this immortality did not cost him 
two hundred thousand livres a year. 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 155 

I must confess that one of the things I very much wonder 
at is, that as the Parliament of Great Britain have promised 
a reward of 20,000 sterling to any person who may dis 
cover the longitude, they should never have once thought to 
imitate Louis XIV. in his munificence with regard to the 
arts and sciences. 

Merit, indeed, meets in England with rewards of another 
kind, which redound more to the honour of the nation. The 
English have so great a veneration for exalted talents, that 
a man of merit in their country is always sure of making his 
fortune. Mr. Addison in France would have been elected a 
member of one of the academies, and, by the credit of some 
women, might have obtained a yearly pension of twelve 
hundred livres, or else might have been imprisoned in the 
Bastile, upon pretence that certain strokes in his tragedy of 
Cato had been discovered which, glanced at the porter of 
some man in power. Mr. Addison was raised to the post of 
Secretary of State in England. Sir Isaac Newton was made 
Warden of the Royal Mint. Mr. Congreve had a considerable 
employment. Mr. Prior was Plenipotentiary. Dr. Swift is 
Dean of St. Patrick in Dublin, and is more revered in Ire 
land than the Primate himself. The religion which Mr. 
Pope professes excludes him, indeed, from preferments of 
every kind, but then it did not prevent his gaining two hun 
dred thousand livres by his excellent translation of Homer. 
I myself saw a long time in France the author of Rhada- 
mistus ready to perish for hunger. And the son of one of 
the greatest men our country ever gave birth to, and who 
was beginning to run the noble career which his father had 
set him, would have been reduced to the extremes of misery 
had he not been patronised by Monsieur Fagon. 

But the circumstance which mostly encourages the arts in 
England is the great veneration which is paid them. The 
picture of the Prime Minister hangs over the chimney of his 
own closet, but I have seen that of Mr. Pope in twenty 
noblemen s houses. Sir Isaac Newton was revered in his 
lifetime, and had a due respect paid to him after his death; 
the greatest men in the nation disputing who should have the 
honour of holding up his pall. Go into Westminster Abbey, 
and you will find that what raises the admiration of the 



156 VOLTAIRE 

spectator is not the mausoleums of the English kings, but 
the monuments which the gratitude of the nation has erected 
to perpetuate the memory of those illustrious men who con 
tributed to its glory. We view their statues in that abbey 
in the same manner as those of Sophocles, Plato, and other 
immortal personages were viewed in Athens; and I am per 
suaded that the bare sight of those glorious monuments has 
fired more than one breast, and been the occasion of their 
becoming great men. 

The English have even been reproached with paying too 
extravagant honours to mere merit, and censured for inter 
ring the celebrated actress Mrs. Oldfield in Westminster 
Abbey, with almost the same pomp as Sir Isaac Newton. 
Some pretend that the English had paid her these great 
funeral honours, purposely to make us more strongly sensible 
of the barbarity and injustice which they object to in us, for 
having buried Mademoiselle Le Couvreur ignominiously in 
the fields. 

But be assured from me, that the English were prompted 
by no other principle in burying Mrs. Oldfield in Westminster 
Abbey than their good sense. They are far from being so 
ridiculous as to brand with infamy an art which has immor 
talised a Euripides and a Sophocles ; or to exclude from the 
body of their citizens a set of people whose business is to 
set off with the utmost grace of speech and action those 
pieces which the nation is proud of. 

Under the reign of Charles I. and in the beginning of the 
civil wars raised by a number of rigid fanatics, who at last 
were the victims to it; a great many pieces were published 
against theatrical and other shows, which were attacked 
with the greater virulence because that monarch and his 
queen, daughter to Henry IV. of France, were passionately 
fond of them. 

One Mr. Prynne, a man of most furiously scrupulous prin 
ciples, who would have thought himself damned had he worn 
a cassock instead of a short cloak, and have been glad to see 
one-half of mankind cut the other to pieces for the glory of 
God, and the Propaganda Fide; took it into his head to write 
a most wretched satire against some pretty good comedies, 
which were exhibited very innocently every night before 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 157 

their majesties. He quoted the authority of the Rabbis, and 
some passages from St. Bonaventure, to prove that the 
CEdipus of Sophocles was the work of the evil spirit; that 
Terence was excommunicated ipso facto; and added, that 
doubtless Brutus, who was a very severe Jansenist, assassin 
ated Julius Caesar for no other reason but because he, who 
was Pontifex Maximus, presumed to write a tragedy the 
subject of which was CEdipus. Lastly, he declared that all 
who frequented the theatre were excommunicated, as they 
thereby renounced their baptism. This was casting the high 
est insult on the king and all the royal family; and as the 
English loved their prince at that time, they could not bear 
to hear a writer talk of excommunicating him, though they 
themselves afterwards cut his head off. Prynne was sum 
moned to appear before the Star Chamber; his wonderful 
book, from which Father Le Brun stole his, was sentenced 
to be burnt by the common hangman, and himself to lose his 
ears. His trial is now extant. 

The Italians are far from attempting to cast a blemish on 
the opera, or to excommunicate Signor Senesino or Signora 
Cuzzoni. With regard to myself, I could presume to wish 
that the magistrates would suppress I know not what con 
temptible pieces written against the stage. For when the 
English and Italians hear that we brand with the greatest 
mark of infamy an art in which we excel ; that we excom 
municate persons who receive salaries from the king; that 
we condemn as impious a spectacle exhibited in convents and 
monasteries ; that we dishonour sports in which Louis XIV. 
and Louis XV., performed as actors; that we give the title 
of the devil s works to pieces which are received by magis 
trates of the most severe character, and represented before 
a virtuous queen; when, I say, foreigners are told of this 
insolent conduct, this contempt for the royal authority, and 
this Gothic rusticity which some presume to call Christian 
severity, what an idea must they entertain of our nation? 
And how will it be possible for them to conceive, either that 
our laws give a sanction to an art which is declared infa 
mous, or that some persons dare to stamp with infamy an 
art which receives a sanction from the laws, is rewarded by 
kings, cultivated and encouraged by the greatest men, and 



158 VOLTAIRE 

admired by whole nations? And that Father Le B run s im 
pertinent libel against the stage is seen in a bookseller s shop, 
standing the very next to the immortal labours of Racine, of 
Corneille, of Moliere, &c. 



LETTER XXIV 
ON THE ROYAL SOCIETY AND OTHER ACADEMIES 

THE English had an Academy of Sciences many years be 
fore us, but then it is not under such prudent regulations as 
ours, the only reason of which very possibly is, because it was 
founded before the Academy of Paris; for had it been 
founded after, it would very probably have adopted some of 
the sage laws of the former and improved upon others. 

Two things, and those the most essential to man, are 
wanting in the Royal Society of London, I mean rewards and 
laws. A seat in the Academy at Paris is a small but secure 
fortune to a geometrician or a chemist; but this is so far 
from being the case at London, that the several members of 
the Royal Society are at a continual, though indeed small 
expense. Any man in England who declares himself a lover 
of the mathematics and natural philosophy, and expresses an 
inclination to be a member of the Royal Society, is immedi 
ately elected into it. But in France it is not enough that a 
man who aspires to the honour of being a member of the 
Academy, and of receiving tfie royal stipend, has a love for 
the sciences ;* he must at the same time be deeply skilled in 
them ; and is obliged to dispute the seat with competitors who 
are so much the more formidable as they are fired by a prin 
ciple of glory, by interest, by the difficulty itself, and by that 
inflexibility of mind which is generally found in those who de 
vote themselves to that pertinacious study, the mathematics. 

The Academy of Sciences is prudently confined to the 
study of Nature, and, indeed, this is a field spacious enough 
for fifty or threescore persons to range in. That of London 
mixes indiscriminately literature with physics; but methinks 
the founding an academy merely for the polite arts is more 
judicious, as it prevents confusion, and the joining, in some 
measure, of heterogeneals, such as a dissertation on the 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 159 

head-dresses of the Roman ladies with a hundred or more 
new curves. 

As there is very little order and regularity in the Royal 
Society, and not the least encouragement; and that the 
Academy of Paris is on a quite different foot, it is no wonder 
that our transactions are drawn up in a more just and beauti 
ful manner than those of the English. Soldiers who are under 
a regular discipline, and besides well paid, must necessarily 
at last perform more glorious achievements than others who 
are mere volunteers. It must indeed be confessed that the 
Royal Society boast their Newton, but then he did not owe 
his knowledge and discoveries to that body; so far from it, 
that the latter were intelligible to very few of his fellow 
members. A genius like that of Sir Isaac belonged to all the 
academies in the world, because all had a thousand things 
to learn of him. 

The celebrated Dean Swift formed a design, in the latter 
end of the late Queen s reign, to found an academy for the 
English tongue upon the model of that of the French. This 
project was promoted by the late Earl of Oxford, Lord High 
Treasurer, and much more by the Lord Bolingbroke, Secre 
tary of State, who had the happy talent of speaking without 
premeditation in the Parliament House with as much purity 
as Dean Swift wrote in his closet, and who would have 
been the ornament and protector of that academy. Those 
only would have been chosen members of it whose works 
will last as long as the English tongue, such as Dean Swift, 
Mr. Prior, whom we saw here invested with a public char 
acter, and whose fame in England is equal to that of La 
Fontaine in France; Mr. Pope, the English Boileau, Mr. 
Congreve, who may be called their Moliere, and several 
other eminent persons whose names I have forgot; all these 
would have raised the glory of that body to a great height 
even in its infancy. But Queen Anne being snatched sud 
denly from the world, the Whigs were resolved to ruin the 
protectors of the intended academy, a circumstance that 
was of the most fatal consequence to polite literature. The 
members of this academy would have had a very great ad 
vantage over those who first formed that of the French, for 
Swift, Prior, Congreve, Dryden, Pope, Addison, &c. had 



160 VOLTAIRE 

fixed the English tongue by their writings ; whereas Chape- 
lain, Colletet, Cassaigne, Faret, Perrin, Cotin, our first 
academicians, were a disgrace to their country ; and so much 
ridicule is now attached to their very names, that if an au 
thor of some genius in this age had the misfortune to be 
called Chapelain or Cotin, he would be under a necessity of 
changing his name. 

One circumstance, to which the English Academy should 
especially have attended, is to have prescribed to themselves 
occupations of a quite different kind from those with which 
our academicians amuse themselves. A wit of this country 
asked me for the memoirs of the French Academy. I an 
swered, they have no memoirs, but have printed threescore 
or fourscore volumes in quarto of compliments. The gen 
tleman perused one or two of them, but without being able 
to understand the style in which they were written, though 
he understood all our good authors perfectly. "All," says 
he, " I see in these elegant discourses is, that the member 
elect having assured the audience that his predecessor was a 
great man, that Cardinal Richelieu was a very great man, 
that the Chancellor Seguier was a pretty great man, that 
Louis XIV. was a more than great man, the director answers 
in the very same strain, and adds, that the member elect may 
also be a sort of great man, and that himself, in quality of 
director, must also have some share in this greatness." 

The cause why all these academical discourses have un 
happily done so little honour to this body is evident enough. 
Vitium est temporis potiiis quam hominis (the fault is owing 
to the age rather than to particular persons). It grew up 
insensibly into a custom for every academician to repeat 
these eulogiums at his reception ; it was laid down as a kind 
of law that the public should be indulged from time to time 
in the sullen satisfaction of yawning over these productions. 
If the reason should afterwards be sought, why the greatest 
geniuses who have been incorporated into that body have 
sometimes made the worst speeches, I answer, that it is 
wholly owing to a strong propension, the gentlemen in ques 
tion had to shine, and to display a thread-bare, worn-out sub 
ject in a new and uncommon light. The necessity of saying 
something, the perplexity of having nothing to say, and a de- 



LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 161 

sire of being witty, are three circumstances which alone are 
capable of making even the greatest writer ridiculous. These 
gentlemen, not being able to strike out any new thoughts, 
hunted after a new play of words, and delivered themselves 
without thinking at all : in like manner as people who should 
seem to chew with great eagerness, and make as though they 
were eating, at the same time that they were just starved. 

It is a law in the French Academy, to publish all those 
discourses by which only they are known, but they should 
rather make a law never to print any of them. 

But the Academy of the Belles Lettres have a more pru 
dent and more useful object, which is, to present the public 
with a collection of transactions that abound with curious 
researches and critiques. These transactions are already 
esteemed by foreigners; and it were only to be wished that 
some subjects in them had been, more thoroughly examined, 
and that others had not been treated at all. As, for in 
stance, we should have been very well satisfied, had they 
omitted I know not what dissertation on the prerogative of 
the right hand over the left; and some others, which, though 
not published under so ridiculous a title, are yet written on 
subjects that are almost as frivolous and silly. 

The Academy of Sciences, in such of their researches as 
are of a more difficult kind and a more sensible use, embrace 
the knowledge of nature and the improvements of the arts. 
We may presume that such profound, such uninterrupted pur 
suits as these, such exact calculations, such refined discover 
ies, such extensive and exalted views, will, at last, produce 
something that may prove of advantage to the universe. 
Hitherto, as we have observed together, the most useful dis 
coveries have been made in the most barbarous times. One 
would conclude that the business of the most enlightened 
ages and the most learned bodies, is, to argue and debate on 
things which were invented by ignorant people. We know 
exactly the angle which the sail of a ship is to make with 
the keel in order to its sailing better; and yet Columbus 
discovered America without having the least idea of the 
property of this angle: however, I am far from inferring 
from hence that we are to confine ourselves merely to a 
hnd practice, but happy it were, would naturalists and 
p HC xxxiv 



162 LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH 

geometricians unite, as much as possible, the practice with 
the theory. 

Strange, but so it is, that those things which reflect the 
greatest honour on the human mind are frequently of the 
least benefit to it ! A man who understands the four funda 
mental rules of arithmetic, aided by a little good sense, shall 
amass prodigious wealth in trade, shall become a Sir Peter 
Delme, a Sir Richard Hopkins, a Sir Gilbert Heathcote, 
whilst a poor algebraist spends his whole life in searching 
for astonishing properties and relations in numbers, which 
at the same time are of no manner of use, and will not ac 
quaint him with the nature of exchanges. This is very 
nearly the case with most of the arts: there is a certain 
point beyond which all researches serve to no other purpose 
than merely to delight an inquisitive mind. Those ingenious 
and useless truths may be compared to stars which, by being 
placed at too great a distance, cannot afford us the least 
light. 

With regard to the French Academy, how great a service 
would they do to literature, to the language, and the nation, 
if, instead of publishing a set of compliments annually, they 
would give us new editions of the valuable works written 
in the age of Louis XIV., purged from the several errors 
of diction which are crept into them. There are many of 
these errors in Corneille and Moliere, but those in La Fon 
taine are very numerous. Such as could not be corrected 
might at least be pointed out. By this means, as all the Euro 
peans read those works, they would teach them our language 
in its utmost purity which, by that means, would be fixed to 
a lasting standard; and valuable French books being then 
printed at the King s expense, would prove one of the most 
glorious monuments the nation could boast. I have been 
told that Boileau formerly made this proposal, and that it has 
since been revived by a gentleman eminent fo~ his genius, 
his fine sense, and just taste for criticism; but this thought 
has met with the fate of many other useful projects, of being 
applauded and neglected. 



ON THE INEQUALITY AMONG 
MANKIND 



BY 
J. J. ROUSSEAU 



INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU was born at Geneva, June 28, 1712, 
the son of a watchmaker of French origin. His education was 
irregular, and though he tried many professions-including en 
graving, music, and teaching he found it difficult to support 
himself in any of them. The discovery of his talent as a writer 
came with the winning of a prize offered by the Academy of 
Dijon for a discourse on the question, "Whether the progress 
of the sciences and of letters has tended to corrupt or to elevate 
morals." He argued so brilliantly that the tendency of civi 
lization was degrading that he became at once famous. The 
discourse here printed on the causes of inequality among men 
was written in a similar competition. 

He now concentrated his powers upon literature, producing 
two novels, "La Nouvelle Heloise," the forerunner and parent 
of endless sentimental and picturesque fictions; and "Emile, ou 
I Education," a work which has had enormous influence on the 
theory and practise of pedagogy down to our own time and in 
which the Savoyard Vicar appears, who is used as the mouthpiece 
for Rousseau s own religious ideas. "Le Contrat Social" (1762) 
elaborated the doctrine of the discourse on inequality. Both his 
torically and philosophically it is unsound; but it was the chief 
literary source of the enthusiasm for liberty, fraternity, and 
equality, which inspired the leaders of the French Revolution, 
and its effects passed far beyond France. 

His most famous work, the "Confessions," was published after 
his death. This book is a mine of information as to his life, 
but it is far from trustworthy; and the picture it gives of the 
author s personality and conduct, though painted in such a 
way as to make it absorbingly interesting, is often unpleasing 
in the highest degree. But it is one of the great autobiographies 
of the world. 

During Rousseau s later years he was the victim of the de 
lusion of persecution; and although he was protected by a 
succession of good friends, he came to distrust and quarrel with 
each in turn. He died at Ermenonville, near Paris, July 2, 
the most widely influential French writer of his age. 

164 



INTRODUCTION 165 

The Savoyard Vicar and his "Profession of Faith" are intro 
duced into "Emile" not, according to the author, because he 
wishes to exhibit his principles as those which should be taught, 
but to give an example of the way in which religious matters 
should be discussed with the young. Nevertheless, it is univer 
sally recognised that these opinions are Rousseau s own, and rep 
resent in short form his characteristic attitude toward religious 
belief. The Vicar himself is believed to combine the traits of 
two Savoyard priests whom Rousseau knew in his youth. The 
more important was the Abbe Gaime, whom he had known at 
Turin; the other, the Abbe Gdtier, who had taught him at 
Annecy. 



A 



QUESTION 

PROPOSED BY THE 

ACADEMY OF DIJON 



What is the Origin of the Inequality 
among Mankind; and whether such 
Inequality is authorized by the Law 
of Nature? 






A DISCOURSE 

UPON THE ORIGIN AND 

THE FOUNDATION OF THE INEQUALITY AMONG 
MANKIND 

f I ^IS of man I am to speak; and the very question, in 
answer to which I am to speak of him, sufficiently 

-- informs me that I am going to speak to men; 
for to those alone, who are not afraid of honouring truth, 
it belongs to propose discussions of this kind. I shall 
therefore maintain with confidence the cause of mankind 
before the sages, who invite me to stand up in its defence; 
and I shall think myself happy, if I can but behave in a 
manner not unworthy of my subject and of my judges. 

I conceive two species of inequality among men; one 
which I call natural, or x physical inequality, because it is 
established by nature, and consists in the difference of age, 
health, bodily strength, and the qualities of the mind, or 
of the soul; the other which may be termed moral, or 
political inequality, because it depends on a kind of con 
vention, and is established, or at least authorized, by the 
common consent of mankind. This species of inequality 
consists in the different privileges, which some men enjoy, 
to the prejudice of others, such as that off being richer, 
more honoured, more powerful, and even that of exacting 
obedience from them. 

It were absurd to ask, what is the cause of natural 
inequality, seeing the bare definition of natural inequality 
answers the question: it would be more absurd still to en 
quire, if there might not be some essential connection be 
tween the two species of inequality, as it would be asking, 
in other words, if those who command are necessarily bet 
ter men than those who obey; and if strength of body or 
of mind, wisdom or virtue are always to be found in indi- 

167 



16 8 ROUSSEAU 

viduals, in the same proportion with power, or riches: a 
question, fit perhaps to be discussed by slaves in the hearing 
of their masters, but unbecoming free and reasonable be 
ings in quest of truth. 

What therefore is precisely the subject of this discourse? 
It is to point out, in the progress of things, that moment, 
when, right taking place of violence, nature became sub 
ject to law; to display that chain of surprising events, in 
consequence of which the strong submitted to serve the 
weak, and the people to purchase imaginary ease, at the 
expense of real happiness. 

The philosophers, who have examined the foundations 
of society, have, every one of them, perceived the necessity 
of tracing it back to a state of nature, but not one of them 
has ever arrived there. Some of them have not scrupled 
to attribute to man in that state the ideas of justice and 
injustice, without troubling their heads to prove, that he 
really must have had such ideas, or even that such ideas 
were useful to him: others have spoken of the natural 
right of every man to keep what belongs to him, without 
letting us know what they meant by the word belong; 
others, without further ceremony ascribing to the strongest 
an authority over the weakest, have immediately struck out 
government, without thinking of the time requisite for 
men to form any notion of the things signified by the words 
authority and government. All of them, in fine, constantly 
N harping on wants, avidity, oppression, desires and pride, 
have transferred to the state of nature ideas picked up in 
the bosom of society. In speaking of savages they described 
citizens. Nay, few of our own writers seem to have so 
much as doubted, that a state of nature did once actually 
exit ; though it plainly appears by Sacred History, that even 
the first man, immediately furnished as he was by God him 
self with both instructions and precepts, never lived in 
that state, and that, if we give to the books of Moses that 
credit which every Christian philosopher ought to give to 
them, we must deny that, even before the deluge, such a 
state ever existed among men, unless they fell into it by 
some extraordinary event: a paradox very difficult to main 
tain, and altogether impossible to prove. 






DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 169 

Let us begin therefore, by laying aside facts, for they 
do not affect the question. The researches, in which we 
may engage on this occasion, are not to be taken for 
historical truths, but merely as hypothetic?! and corr i- 
tional reasonings, fitter to illustrate the n?-nrr of things, 
than to show their true origin, like those systems, which 
our naturalists daily make of the formation of the world. 
Religion commands us to believe, that men, having been 
drawn by God himself out of a state of nature, are un 
equal, because it is his pleasure they should be so; but 
religion does not forbid us to draw conjectures solely 
from the nature of man, considered in itself, and from that 
of the beings which surround him, concerning the fate of 
mankind, had they been left to themselves. This is then 
the question I am to answer, the question I propose to 
examine in the present discourse. As mankind in general 
have an interest in my subject, I shall endeavour to use 
a language suitable to all nations: or rather, forgetting the 
circumstances of time and place in order to think of nothing 
but the men I speak to, I shall suppose myself in the 
Lyceum of Athens, repeating the lessons of my masters 
before the Platos and the Xenocrates of that famous 
seat of philosophy as my judges, and in presence of the 
whole human species as my audience. 

O man, whatever country you may belong to, whatever 
your opinions may be, attend to my words; you shall hear 
your history such as I think I have read it, not in books 
composed by those like you, for they are liars, but in the 
book of nature which never lies. All that I shall repeat 
after her, must be true, without any intermixture of false 
hood, but where I may happen, without intending it, to 
introduce my own conceits. The times I am going to 
speak of are very remote. How much you are changed 
from what you once were! Tis in a manner the life of 
your species that I am going to write, from the qualities 
which you have received, and which your education and 
your habits could deprave, but could not destroy. There 
is, I am sensible, an age at which every individual of you 
would choose to stop; and you will look out for the age 
at which, had you your wish, your species had stopped. 



170 ROUSSEAU 

Uneasy at your present condition for reasons which 
threaten your unhappy posterity with still greater un 
easiness, you will perhaps wish it were in your power to 
go back; and this sentiment ought to be considered, as 
the panegyric of your first parents, the condemnation of 
your contemporaries, and a source of terror to all those who 
may have the misfortune of succeeding you. 



DISCOURSE 

FIRST PART 

HOWEVER important it may be, in order to form a 
proper judgment of the natural state of man, to 
consider him from his origin, and to examine him, 
as it were, in the first embryo of the species; I shall not at 
tempt to trace his organization through its successive ap 
proaches to perfection: I shall not stop to examine in the 
animal system what he might have been in the beginning, 
to become at last what he actually is; I shall not inquire 
whether, as Aristotle thinks, his neglected nails were no 
better at first than crooked talons; whether his whole body 
was not, bear-like, thick covered with rough hair; and 
whether, walking upon all-fours, his eyes, directed to 
the earth, and confined to a horizon of a few paces extent, 
did not at once point out the nature and limits of his ideas. 
I could only form vague, and almost imaginary, conjectures 
on this subject. Comparative anatomy has not as yet been 
sufficiently improved; neither have the observations of nat 
ural philosophy been sufficiently ascertained, to establish 
upon such foundations the basis of a solid system. For 
this reason, without having recourse to the supernatural in 
formations with which we have been favoured on this head, 
or paying any attention to the changes, that must have hap 
pened in the conformation of the interior and exterior parts 
of man s body, in proportion as he applied his members to 
new purposes, and took to new aliments, I shall suppose his 
conformation to have always been, what we now behold it; 
that he always walked on two feet, made the same use of his 
hands that we do of ours, extended his looks over the whole 
face of nature, and measured with his eyes the vast extent 
of the heavens. 

171 



172 ROUSSEAU 

If I strip this being, thus constituted, of all the super 
natural gifts which he may have received, and of all the 
artificial faculties, which we could not have acquired but by 
slow degrees; if I consider him, in a word, such as he must 
have issued from the hands of nature; I see an animal less 
strong than some, and less active than others, but, upon the 
whole, the most advantageously organized of any; I see 
him satisfying the calls of hunger under the first oak, and 
those of thirst at the first rivulet; I see him laying himself 
down to sleep at the foot of the same tree that afforded him 
his meal; and behold, this done, all his wants are com 
pletely supplied. 

The earth left to its own natural fertility and covered with 
immense woods, that no hatchet ever disfigured, offers at 
every step food and shelter to every species of animals. 
Men, dispersed among them, observe and imitate their in 
dustry, and thus rise to the instinct of beasts; with this ad 
vantage, that, whereas every species of beasts is confined to 
one peculiar instinct, man, who perhaps has not any that 
particularly belongs to him, appropriates to himself those 
of all other animals, and lives equally upon most of the dif 
ferent aliments, which they only divide among themselves; 
a circumstance which qualifies him to find his subsistence, 
with more ease than any of them. 

Men, accustomed from their infancy to the inclemency 
of the weather, and to the rigour of the different seasons; 
inured to fatigue, and obliged to defend, naked and 
without arms, their life and their prey against the other 
wild inhabitants of the forest, or at least to avoid their 
fury by flight, acquire a robust and almost unalterable 
habit of body; the children, bringing with them into the 
world the excellent constitution of their parents, and 
strengthening it by the same exercises that first produced 
it, attain by this means all the vigour that the human 
frame is capable of. Nature treats them exactly in the 
same manner that Sparta treated the children of her citizens; 
those who come well formed into the world she renders 
strong and robust, and destroys all the rest; differing in 
this respect from our societies, in which the state, by per 
mitting children to become burdensome to their par- 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 173 

ents, murders them all without distinction, even in the 
wombs of the.r mothers. 

The body being the only instrument that savage man is 
acauainted with, he employs it to different uses, of which 
ours, for want of practice, are incapable ; and we may thank 
our industry for the loss of that strength and agility, which 
necessity obliges him to acquire. Had he a hatchet, would 
his hand so easily snap off from an oak so stout a branch ? 
Had he a sling, would it dart a stone to so great a dis 
tance ? Had he a ladder, would he run so nimbly up a tree ? 
Had he a horse, would he with such swiftness shoot along 
the plain? Give civilized man but time to gather about him 
all his machines, and no doubt he will be an overmatch for 
the savage: but if you have a mind to see a contest still 
more unequal, place them naked and unarmed one opposite 
to the other; and you will soon discover the advantage there 
is in perpetually having all our forces at our disposal, in 
being constantly prepared against all events, and in always 
carrying ourselves, as it were, whole and entire about us. 

Hobbes would have it that man is naturally void of fear, 
and always intent upon attacking and fighting. An illus 
trious philosopher thinks on the contrary, and Cumberland 
and Puffendorff likewise affirm it, that nothing is more fear 
ful than man in a state of nature, that he is always in a 
tremble, and ready to fly at the first motion he perceives, 
at the first noise that strikes his ears. This, indeed, may be 
very true in regard to objects with which he is not acquaint 
ed; and I make no doubt of his being terrified at every new 
sight that presents itself, as often as he cannot distinguish 
the physical good and evil which he may expect from it, 
nor compare his forces with the dangers he has to encounter; 
circumstances that seldom occur in a state of nature, where 
all things proceed in so uniform a manner, and the face of 
the earth is not liable to those sudden and continual changes 
occasioned in it by the passions and inconstancies of collected 
bodies. But savage man living among other animals with 
out any society or fixed habitation, and finding himself early 
under a necessity of measuring his strength with theirs, soon 
makes a comparison between both, and finding that he sur 
passes them more in address, than they surpass him in 



174 ROUSSEAU 

strength, he learns not to be any longer in dread of them. 
Turn out a bear or a wolf against a sturdy, active, resolute 
savage, (and this they all are,) provided with stones and a 
good stick ; and you will soon find that the danger is at least 
equal on both sides, and that after several trials of this 
kind, wild beasts, who are not fond of attacking each other, 
will not be very fond of attacking man, whom they have 
found every whit as wild as themselves. As to animals who 
have really more strength than man has address, he is, in 
regard to them, what other weaker species are, who find 
means to subsist notwithstanding; he has even this great 
advantage over such weaker species, that being* equally fleet 
with them, and finding on every tree an almost inviolable asy 
lum, he is always at liberty to take it or leave it, as he likes 
best, and of course to fight or to fly, whichever is most agree 
able to him. To this we may add that no animal naturally 
makes war upon man, except in the case of self-defence or 
extreme hunger; nor ever expresses against him any of these 
violent antipathies, which seem to indicate that some par 
ticular species are intended by nature for the food of others. 
But there are other more formidable enemies, and against 
which man is not provided with the same means of defence; 
I mean natural infirmities, infancy, old age, and sickness of 
every kind, melancholy proofs of our weakness, whereof the 
two first are common to all animals, and the last chiefly at 
tends man living in a state of society. It is even observable 
in regard to infancy, that the mother being able to carry her 
child about with her, wherever she goes, can perform the 
duty of a nurse with a great deal less trouble, than the fe 
males of many other animals, who are obliged to be con 
stantly going and coming with no small labour and fatigue, 
one way to look out for their own subsistence, and another 
to suckle and feed their young ones. True it is that, if the 
woman happens to perish, her child is exposed to the great 
est danger of perishing with her; but this danger is common 
to a hundred other species, whose young ones require a 
great deal of time to be able to provide for themselves; and 
if our infancy is longer than theirs, our life is longer like 
wise ; so that, in this respect too, all things are in a manner 
equal; not but that there are other rules concerning the 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 175 

duration of the first age of life, and the number of the young 
of man and other animals, but they do not belong to my 
subject. With old men, who stir and perspire but little, the 
demand for food diminishes with their abilities to provide 
it; and as a savage life would exempt them from the gout 
and the rheumatism, and old age is of all ills that which 
human assistance is least capable of alleviating, they would 
at last go off, without its being perceived by others that they 
ceased to exist, and almost without perceiving it themselves. 
In regard to sickness, I shall not repeat the vain and false 
declamations made use of to discredit medicine by most men, 
while they enjoy their health ; I shall only ask if there are any 
solid observations from which we may conclude that in those 
countries where the healing art is most neglected, the mean 
duration of man s life is shorter than in those where it is 
most cultivated? And how is it possible this should be the 
case, if we inflict more diseases upon ourselves than medi 
cine can supply us with remedies ! [j"he extreme inequali 
ties in the manner of living of the several classes of man 
kind, the excess of idleness in some, and of labour in others, 
the facility of irritating and satisfying our sensuality and 
our appetites, the too exquisite and out of the way aliments 
of the rich, which fill them with fiery juices, and bring on 
indigestions, the unwholesome food of the poor, of which 
even, bad as it is, they very often fall short, and the want of 
which tempts them, every opportunity that offers, to eat 
greedily and overload their stomachs ; watchings, excesses of 
every kind, immoderate transports of all the passions, fa 
tigues, waste of spirits, in a word, the numberless pains and 
anxieties annexed to every condition, and which the mind of 
man is constantly a prey to; these are the fatal proofs that 
most of our ills are of our own making, and that we might 
have avoided them all by adhering to the simple, uniform 
and solitary way of life prescribed to us by nature. Allow 
ing that nature intended we should always enjoy good health, 
I dare almost affirm that a state of rcf erfinn is n stale against 
nature, and that the man who meditates is a depraved animal. 
We need only call to mind the good constitution of savages, 
of those at least whom we have not destroyed by our strong 
liquors ; we need only reflect, that they are strangers to almost 



176 ROUSSEAU 

every disease, except those occasioned by wounds and old age, 
to be in a manner convinced that the history of human dis 
eases might be easily composed by pursuing that of civil so 
cieties. Such at least was the opinion of Plato, who con 
cluded from certain remedies made use of or approved by 
Podalyrus and Macaon at the Siege of Troy, that several 
disorders, which these remedies were found to bring on in 
his days, were not known among men at that remote period. 

Man therefore, in a state of nature where there are so 
few sources of sickness, can have no great occasion for 
physic, and still less for physicians; neither is the human 
species more to be pitied in this respect, than any other 
species of animals. Ask those who make hunting their rec 
reation or business, if in their excursions they meet with 
many sick or feeble animals. They meet with many carry 
ing the marks of considerable wounds, that have been per 
fectly well healed and closed up; with many, whose bones 
formerly broken, and whose limbs almost torn off, have com 
pletely knit and united, without any other surgeon but time, 
any other regimen but their usual way of living, and whose 
cures were not the less perfect for their not having been 
tortured with incisions, poisoned with drugs, or worn out by 
diet and abstinence. In a word, however useful medicine 
well administered may be to us who live in a state of society, 
it is still past doubt, that if, on the one hand, the sick sav 
age, destitute of help, has nothing to hope from nature, on 
the other, he has nothing to fear but from his disease; a 
circumstance, which oftens renders his situation preferable 
to ours. 

Let us therefore beware of confounding savage man 
with the men, whom we daily see and converse with. 
Nature behaves towards all animals left to her care with 
a predilection, that seems to prove how jealous she is of 
that prerogative. The horse, the cat, the bull, nay the ass 
itself, have generally a higher stature, and always a more 
robust constitution, more vigour, more strength and courage 
in their forests than in our houses; they lose half these 
advantages by becoming domestic animals; it looks as if 
all our attention to treat them kindly, and to feed them 
well, served only to bastardize them. It is thus with man 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 177 

himself, In proportion as he becomes sociable and a slave 
to others, he becomes weak, fearful, mean-spirited, and t 
soft and effeminate way of living at once completes the 
enervation of his strength and of his courage. We may 
add, that there must be still a wider difference ^ between 
man and man in a savage and domestic condition, than 
between beast and beast ; for as men and beasts have been 
treated alike by nature, all the conveniences with which men 
indulge themselves more than they do the beasts tamed by 
them, are so many particular causes which make them 
degenerate more sensibly. 

Nakedness therefore, the want of houses, and of all 
these unnecessaries, which we consider as so very necessary, 
are not such mighty evils in respect to these primitive men, 
and much less still any obstacle to their preservation. 
Their skins, it is true, are destitute of hair; but then they 
have no occasion for any such covering in warm climates; 
and in cold climates they soon learn to apply to that use 
those of the animals they have conquered; they have but 
two feet to run with, but they have two hands to defend 
themselves with, and provide for ail their wants; it cost; 
them perhaps a great deal of time and trouble to make 
their children walk, but the mothers carry them with ease ; 
an advantage not granted to other species of animals, with 
whom the mother, when pursued, is obliged to abandon 
her young ones, or regulate her steps by theirs. In short, 
unless we admit those singular and fortuitous concurrences 
of circumstances, which I shall speak of hereafter, ^ and 
which, it is very possible, may never have existed, it is 
evident, in every state of the question, that the man, who 
first made himself clothes and built himself a cabin, supplied 
himself with things which he did not much want, since he 
had lived without them till then; and why should he not 
have been able to support in his riper years, the same kind 
of life, which he had supported from his infancy? 

Alone, idle, and always surrounded with danger, savage 
man must be fond of sleep, and sleep lightly like other 
animals, who think but little, and may, in a manner, be 
said to sleep all the time they do not think: self-preserva 
tion being almost his only concern, he must exercise those 



178 ROUSSEAU 



faculties most, which are most serviceable in attacking and 
in defending, whether to subdue his prey, or to prevent his 
becoming that of other animals: those organs, on the con 
trary, which softness and sensuality can alone improve, 
must remain in a state of rudeness, utterly incompatible with 
all manner of delicacy; and as his senses are divided on 
this point, his touch and his taste must be extremely coarse 
and blunt; his sight, his hearing, and his smelling equally 
subtle: such is the animal state in general, and accordingly 
if we may believe travellers, it is that of most savage 
nations. We must not therefore be surprised, that the 
Hottentots of the Cape of Good Hope, distinguish with 
their naked eyes ships on the ocean, at as great a distance 
as the Dutch can discern them with their glasses; nor that 
the savages of America should have tracked the Spaniards 
with their noses, to as great a degree of exactness, as the 
best dogs could have done; nor that all these barbarous 
nations support nakedness without pain, use such large 
quantities of Piemento to give their food a relish, and 
drink like water the strongest liquors of Europe. 

As ^ yet I have considered man merely in his physical 
capacity; let us now endeavour to examine him in a meta 
physical and moral light. 

I^can discover nothing in any mere animal but an in 
genious machine, to which nature has given senses to wind 
itself up, and guard, to a certain degree, against every- 
nng that might destroy or disorder it. I perceive the very 
same things in the human machine, with this d^erence, 
that nature alone operates in all the operations of the 
beast whereas man, as a free agent, has a share in his. 
Dne chooses by instinct; the other by an act of liberty; for 
which reason the beast cannot deviate from the rules that 
jave been prescribed to it, even in cases where such 
ition might be useful, and man often deviates from 
i laid down for him to his prejudice. Thus a 

reon would starve near a dish of the best flesh-meat, and 
i a heap of fruit or corn, though both might very well 

* PP T* L t7 lth the f d which th y thus disdain, did 

iey but bethink themselves to make a trial of it: it is in 

nner dissolute men run into excesses, which bring 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 179 

on fevers and death itself; because the mind depraves the 
senses, and when nature ceases to speak, the will still con 
tinues to dictate. 

All animals must be allowed to have ideas, since all 
animals have senses; they even combine their ideas to a 
certain degree, and, in this respect, it is only the difference 
of such degree, that constitutes the difference between man 
and beast: some philosophers have even advanced, that 
there is a greater difference between some men and some 
others, than between some men and some beasts; it is not 
therefore so much the understanding that constitutes, among 
animals, the specifical distinction of man, as his quality of 
a free agent. Nature speaks to all animals, and beasts obey 
her voice. Man feels the same impression, but he at the 
same time perceives that he is free to resist or to acquiesce; 
and it is in the consciousness of this liberty, that the spirit 
uality of his soul chiefly appears: for natural philosophy 
explains, in some measure, the mechanism of the senses 
and the formation of ideas; but in the power of willing, or 
rather of choosing, and in the consciousness of this power, 
nothing can be discovered but acts, that are purely 
spiritual, and cannot be accounted for by the laws of 
mechanics. 

But though the difficulties, in which all these questions are 
involved, should leave some room to dispute on this dif 
ference between man and beast, there is another very 
specific quality that distinguishes them, and a quality which 
will admit of no dispute ; this is the faculty of improvement ; 
a faculty which, as circumstances offer, successively un 
folds all the other faculties, and resides among us^not only in 
the species, but in the individuals that compose it; whereas 
a beast is, at the end of some months, all he ever will be 
during the rest of his life; and his species, at the end of 
a thousand years, precisely what it was the first year of 
that long period. Why is man alone subject to dotage? 
Is it not, because he thus returns to his primitive condition? 
And because, while the beast, which has acquired nothing 
and has likewise nothing to lose, continues always in pos 
session of his instinct, man, losing by old age, or by accident, 
all the acquisitions he had made in consequence of his per- 



180 ROUSSEAU 



fectibility, thus falls back even lower than beasts them 
selves? It would be a melancholy necessity for us to be 
obliged to allow, that this distinctive and almost unlimited 
faculty is the source of all man s misfortunes; that it is 
this faculty, which, though by slow degrees, draws them out 
of their original condition, in which his days would slide 
away insensibly in peace and innocence ; that it is this faculty 
which, in a succession of ages, produces his discoveries and 
mistakes, his virtues and his vices, and, at long run, renders 
him both his own and nature s tyrant. It would be 
shocking to be obliged to commend, as a beneficent being 
whoever he was that first suggested to the Oronoco Indians 
: use of those boards which they bind on the temples of 
their children, and which secure to them the enjoyment of 
some part at least of their natural imbecility and happiness. 
Savage man, abandoned by nature to pure instinct or 
rather indemnified for that which has perhaps been denied 
to him by faculties capable of immediately supplying the 
place of it, and of raising him afterwards a great deal 
higher, would therefore begin with functions that were 
merely animal: to see and to feel would be his first 
:ondition, which he would enjoy in common with other 
umals. To will and not to will, to wish and to fear would 
; first, and in a manner, the only operations of his soul, 
all new circumstances occasioned new developments 
> Let moralists say what they will, the human understanding 
3 greatly indebted to the passions, which, on their side 
are likewise universally allowed to be greatly indebted to 
the human understanding. It is by the activitv of our pas 
sions, that our reason improves: we covet knowledge merely 
because we covet enjoyment, and it is impossible to conceive 
why a man exempt from fears and desires should take the 
trouble to reason. The passions, in their turn, owe their 
to our wants, and their increase to our progress in 
tence; for we cannot desire or fear anything, but in 
consequence of the ideas we have of it, or of the simple im 
pulses of nature; and savage man, destitute of every species 
F knowledge, experiences no passions but those of this last 
s desires never extend beyond his physical wants; 
he knows no goods but food, a female, and rest- he 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 181 

fears no evil but pain, and hunger; I say pain, and not 
death ; for no animal, merely as such, will ever know what 
it is to die, and the knowledge of death, and of its terrors, 
is one of the first acquisitions made by man, in consequence 
of his deviating from the animal state. 

I could easily, were it requisite, cite facts in support of 
this opinion, and show, that the progress of the mind has 
everywhere kept pace exactly with the wants, to which 
nature had left the inhabitants exposed, or to which cir 
cumstances had subjected them, and consequently to the 
passions, which inclined them to provide for these wants. 
I could exhibit in Egypt the arts starting up, and extending 
themselves with the inundations of the Nile; I could pursue 
them in their progress among the Greeks, where they were 
seen to bud forth, grow, and rise to the heavens, in the 
midst of the sands and rocks of Attica, without being able 
to take root on the fertile banks of the Eurotas ; I would ob 
serve that, in general, the inhabitants of the north are more 
industrious than those of the south, because they can less 
do without industry; as if nature thus meant to make all 
things equal, by giving to the mind that fertility she has 
denied to the soil. 

But exclusive of the uncertain testimonies of history, 
who does not perceive that everything seems to remove 
from savage man the temptation and the means of altering 
his condition? His imagination paints nothing to him; 
his heart asks nothing from him. His moderate wants are 
so easily supplied with what he everywhere finds ready 
to his hand, and he stands at such a distance from the de 
gree of knowledge requisite to covet more, that he can 
neither have foresight nor curiosity. The spectacle of nature, 
by growing quite familiar to him, becomes at last equally 
indifferent. It is constantly the same order, constantly the 
same revolutions ; he has not sense enough to feel surprise 
at the sight of the greatest wonders; and it is not in his 
mind we must look for that philosophy, which man must 
have to know how to observe once, what he has every day 
seen. His soul, which nothing disturbs, gives itself up 
entirely to the consciousness of its actual existence, with 
out any thought of even the nearest futurity; and his pro- 



182 ROUSSEAU 

jects, equally confined with his views, scarce extend to 
the end of the day. Such is, even at present, the degree of 
foresight in the Caribbean: he sells his cotton bed in the 
morning, and comes in the evening, with tears in his eyes, 
to buy it back, not having foreseen that he should want it 
again the next night. 

"he more we meditate on this subject, the wider does the 
distance between mere sensation and the most simple knowl 
edge become in our eyes; and it is impossible to conceive 
how man, by his own powers alone, without the assistance 
of communication, and the spur of necessity, could have got 
over so great an interval. How many ages perhaps re 
volved, before men beheld any other fire but that of the 
heavens? How many different accidents must have con 
curred to make them acquainted with the most common 
uses of this element? How often have they let it go out, 
before they knew the art of reproducing it? And how 
often perhaps has not every one of these secrets perished 
with the discoverer? What shall we say of agriculture, 
an art which requires so much labour and foresight; which 
depends upon other arts ; which, it is very evident, cannot 
be practised but in a society, if not a formed one, at least 
one of some standing, and which does not so much serve 
to draw aliments from the earth, for the earth would yield 
them without all that trouble, as to oblige her to produce 
those things, which we like best, preferably to others? But) 
let us suppose that men had multiplied to such a degree, that 
the natural products of the earth no longer sufficed for their 
support; a supposition which, by the bye, would prove that 
this kind of life would be very advantageous to the human 
species; let us suppose that, without forge or anvil, the in 
struments of husbandry had dropped from the heavens into 
the hands of savages, that these men had got the better 
of that mortal aversion they all have for constant labour; 
that they had learned to foretell their wants at so great 
a distance of time; that they had guessed exactly how they 
were to break the earth, commit their seed to it, and plant 
trees; that they had found out the art of grinding their 
corn, and improving by fermentation the juice of their 
grapes; all operations which we must allow them to have 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 183 

learned from the gods, since we cannot conceive how they 
should make such discoveries of themselves; after all these 
fine presents, what man would be mad enough to cultivate 
a field, that may be robbed by the first comer, man or beast, 
who takes a fancy to the produce of it. And would any 
man consent to spend his day in labour and fatigue, when 
the rewards of his labour and fatigue became more and 
more precarious in proportion to his want of them? In a 
word, how could this situation engage men to cultivate the 
earth, as long as it was not parcelled out among them, that 
is, as long as a state of nature subsisted. 

Though we should suppose savage man as well versed in the 
art of thinking, as philosophers make him ; though we were, 
after them, to make him a philosopher himself, discovering 
of himself the sublimest truths, forming to himself, by the 
most abstract arguments, maxims of justice and reason 
drawn from the love of order in general, or from the known 
will of his Creator : in a word, though we were to suppose his 
mind as intelligent and enlightened, as it must, and is, in 
fact, found to be dull and stupid; what benefit would the 
species receive from all these metaphysical discoveries, 
which could not be communicated, but must perish with the 
individual who had made them? What progress could 
mankind make in the forests, scattered up and down among 
the other animals? And to what degree could men mutually 
improve and enlighten each other, when they had no fixed 
habitation, nor any need of each other s assistance; when 
the same persons scarcely met twice in their whole lives, 
and on meeting neither spoke to, or so much as knew 
each other? 

Let us consider how many ideas we owe to the use of 
speech; how much grammar exercises, and facilitates the 
operations of the mind; let us, besides, reflect on the im 
mense pains and time that the first invention of languages 
must have required: Let us add these reflections to the 
preceding; and then we may judge how many thousand ages 
must have been requisite to develop successively the opera 
tions, which the human mind is capable of producing. 

I must now beg leave to stop one moment to consider the 
perplexities attending the origin of languages. I might here 



!84 ROUSSEAU 

barely cite or repeat the researches made, in relation to this 
question, by the Abbe de Condillac, which all fully confirm 
my system, and perhaps even suggested to me the first idea 
of it. But, as the manner, in which the philosopher resolves 
the difficulties of his own starting, concerning the origin of 
arbitrary signs, shows that he supposes, what I doubt, namely 
a kind of society already established among the inventors of 
languages; I think it my duty, at the same time that I refer 
to his reflections, to give my own, in order to expose the 
same difficulties in a light suitable to my subject. The first 
that offers is how languages could become necessary ; for as 
there was no correspondence uetween men, nor the least 
necessity for any, there is no conceiving the necessity of this 
invention, nor the possibility of it, if it was not indispensable. 
I might say, with many others, that languages are the fruit 
of the domestic intercourse between fathers, mothers, and 
children : but this, besides its not answering any difficulties, 
would be committing the same fault with those, who rea 
soning on the state of nature, transfer to it ideas collected in 
society, always consider families as living together under 
one roof, and their members as observing among themselves 
an union, equally intimate and permanent with that which we 
see exist in a civil state, where so many common interests con 
spire to unite them; whereas in this primitive state, as there 
were neither houses nor cabins, nor any kind of property, 
every one took up his lodging at random, and seldom con 
tinued above one night in the same place ; males and females 
united without any premeditated design, as chance, occasion, 
or desire brought them together, nor had they any great 
occasion for language to make known their thoughts to each 
other. They parted with the same ease. The mother 
suckled her children, when just born, for her own sake; but 
afterwards out of love and affection to them, when habit 
and custom had made them dear to her ; but they no sooner 
gained strength enough to run about in quest of food than 
they separated even from her of their own accord; and as 
they scarce had any other method of not losing each other, 
than that of remaining constantly in each other s sight, they 
soon came to such a pass of forgetfulness, as not even to 
know each other, when they happened to meet again. I must 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 185 

further observe that the child having all his wants to ex 
plain, and consequently more things to say to his mother, 
than the mother can have to say to him, it is he that must 
be at the chief expense of invention, and the language he 
makes use of must be in a great measure his own work; 
this makes the number of languages equal to that of the 
individuals who are to speak them; and this multiplicity 
of languages is further increased by their roving and vag 
abond kind of life, which allows no idiom time enough to 
acquire any consistency; for to say that the mother would 
have dictated to the child the words he must employ to 
ask her this thing and that, may well enough explain in 
what manner languages, already formed, are taught, 
but it does not show us in what manner they are first 
formed. 

Let us suppose this first difficulty conquered : Let us for a 
moment consider ourselves at this side of the immense space, 
which must have separated the pure state of nature from that 
in which languages became necessary, and let us, after allow 
ing such necessity, examine how languages could begin 
to be established. A new difficulty this, still more stubborn 
than the preceding; for if men stood in need of speech to 
learn to think, they must have stood in still greater need of 
the art of thinking to invent that of speaking; and though 
we could conceive how the sounds of the voice came to be 
taken for the conventional interpreters of our ideas we 
should not be the nearer knowing who could have been the in 
terpreters of this convention for such ideas, as, in conse 
quence of their not having any sensible objects, could not 
be made manifest by gesture or voice; so that we can scarce 
form any tolerable conjectures concerning the birth of this 
art of communicating our thoughts, and establishing a cor 
respondence between minds : a sublime art which, though so 
remote from its origin, philosophers still behold at such a 
prodigious distance from its perfection, that I never met with 
one of them bold enough to affirm it would ever arrive there, 
though the revolutions necessarily produced by time were 
suspended in its favour; though prejudice could be banished 
from, or would be at least content to sit silent in the presence 
of our academies, and though these societies should conse- 



186 ROUSSEAU 

crate themselves, entirely and during whole ages, to the 
study of this intricate object. 

The first language of man, the most universal and most 
energetic of all languages, in short, the only language he 
had occasion for, before there was a necessity of per 
suading assembled multitudes, was the cry of nature. As 
this cry was never extorted but by a kind of instinct in the 
most urgent cases, to implore assistance in great danger, or 
relief in great sufferings, it was of little use in the common 
occurrences of life, where more moderate sentiments gen 
erally prevail. When the ideas of men began to extend and 
multiply, and a closer communication began to take place 
among them, they laboured to devise more numerous signs, 
and a more extensive language: they multiplied the inflec 
tions of the voice, and added to them gestures, which are, 
in their own nature, more expressive, and whose meaning 
depends less on any prior determination. They therefore 
expressed visible and movable objects by gestures and those 
which strike the ear, by imitative sounds: but as gestures 
scarcely indicate anything except objects that are actually 
present or can be easily described, and visible actions; as 
they are not of general use, since darkness or the interposi 
tion of an opaque medium renders them useless; and as be 
sides they require attention rather than excite it: men at 
length bethought themselves of substituting for them the ar 
ticulations of voice, which, without having the same relation 
to any determinate object, are, in quality of instituted signs, 
fitter to represent all our ideas ; a substitution, which could 
only have been made by common consent, and in a manner 
pretty difficult to practise by men, whose rude organs were 
unimproved by exercise; a substitution, which is in itself 
more difficult to be conceived, since the motives to this 
unanimous agreement must have been somehow or another 
expressed, and speech therefore appears to have been ex 
ceedingly requisite to establish the use of speech. 

We must allow that the words, first made use of by men, 
had in their minds a much more extensive signification, than 
those employed in languages of some standing, and that, 
considering how ignorant they were of the division of 
speech into its constituent parts; they at first gave every 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 187 

word the meaning of an entire proposition. When after 
wards they began to perceive the difference between the 
subject and attribute, and between verb and noun, a distinc 
tion which required no mean effort of genius, the sub 
stantives for a time were only so many proper names, the 
infinitive was the only tense, and as to adjectives, great 
difficulties must have attended the development of the idea 
that represents them, since every adjective is an abstract 
word, and abstraction is an unnatural and very painful 
operation. 

At first they gave every object a peculiar name, without 
any^ regard to its genus or species, things which these first 
institutors of language were in no condition to distinguish; 
and every individual presented itself solitary to their minds, 
as it stands in the table of nature. If they called one 
oak A, they called another oak B : so that their dictionary 
must have been more extensive in proportion as their knowl 
edge of things was more confined. It could not but be a 
very difficult task to get rid of so diffuse and embarrassing 
a nomenclature; as in order to marshal the several beings 
under common and generic denominations, it was necessary 
to be first acquainted with their properties, and their dif 
ferences; to be stocked with observations and definitions, 
that is to say, to understand natural history and meta 
physics, advantages which the men of these times could 
not have enjoyed. 

Besides, general ideas cannot be conveyed to the mind 
without the assistance of words, nor can the understanding 
seize them without the assistance of propositions. This is 
one of the reasons, why mere animals cannot form such 
ideas, nor ever acquire the perfectibility which depends on 
such an operation. When a monkey leaves without the 
least hesitation one nut for another, are we to think he 
has any general idea of that kind of fruit, and that he com 
pares these two individual bodies with his archetype notion 
of them? No, certainly; but the sight of one of these nuts 
calls back to his memory the sensations which he has re 
ceived from the other; and his eyes, modified after some 
certain manner, give notice to his palate of the modification 
it is in its turn going to receive. Every general idea is 



188 ROUSSEAU 

purely intellectual ; let the imagination tamper ever so little 
with it, it immediately becomes a particular idea. Endeavour 
to represent to yourself the image of a tree in general, you 
never will be able to do it; in spite of all your efforts 
it will appear big or little, thin or tufted, of a bright or a 
deep colour; and were you master to see nothing in it, but 
what can be seen in every tree, such a picture would no 
longer resemble any tree. Beings perfectly abstract are 
perceivable in the same manner, or are only conceivable by 
the assistance of speech. The definition of a triangle can 
alone give you a just idea of that figure: the moment you 
form a triangle in your mind, it is this or that particular tri 
angle and no other, and you cannot avoid giving breadth to 
its lines and colour to its area. We must therefore make use 
of propositions; we must therefore speak to have general 
ideas; for the moment the imagination stops, the mind must 
stop too, if not assisted by speech. If therefore the first 
inventors could give no names to any ideas but those they 
had already, it follows that the first substantives could never 
have been anything more than proper names. 

.But when by means, which I cannot conceive, our new 
grammarians began to extend their ideas, and generalize 
their words, the ignorance of the inventors must have con 
fined this method to very narrow bounds; and as they had 
at first too much multiplied the names of individuals for 
want of being acquainted with the distinctions called genus 
and species, they afterwards made too few genera and 
species for want of having considered beings in all their 
differences ; to push the divisions far enough, they must have 
had more knowledge and experience than we can allow them, 
and have made more researches and taken more pains, than 
we can suppose them willing to submit to. Now if, even 
at this present time, we every day discover new species, 
which had before escaped all our observations, how many 
species must have escaped the notice of men, who judged 
of things merely from their first appearances ! As to the 
primitive classes and the most general notions, it were super 
fluous to add that these they must have likewise overlooked : 
how, for example, could they have thought of or understood 
the words, matter, spirit, substance, mode, figure, motion, 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 189 

since even our philosophers, who for so long a time have 
been constantly employing these terms, can themselves 
scarcely understand them, and since the ideas annexed to 
these words being purely metaphysical, no models of them 
could be found in nature? 

I stop at these first advances, and beseech my judges to 
suspend their lecture a little, in order to consider, what 
a great way language has still to go, in regard to the 
invention of physical substantives alone, (though the easiest 
part of language to invent,) to be able to express all the 
sentiments of man, to assume an invariable form, to bear 
being spoken in public and to influence society: I earnestly 
entreat them to consider how much time and knowledge must 
have been requisite to find out numbers, abstract words, 
the aorists, and all the other tenses of verbs, the particles, 
and syntax, the method of connecting propositions and argu 
ments, of forming all the logic of discourse. For my own 
part, I am so scared at the difficulties that multiply at every 
step, and so convinced of the almost demonstrated impos 
sibility of languages owing their birth and establishment to 
means that were merely human, that I must leave to who 
ever may please to take it up, the task of discussing this 
difficult problem. " Which was the most necessary, society 
already formed to invent languages, or languages already 
invented to form society?" 

But be the case of these origins ever so mysterious, we 
may at least infer from the little care which nature has 
taken to bri^g- men together by mutual wants, and make the 
use of speech easy to them, how little she has done towards 
making them sociable, and how little she has contributed 
to anything which they themselves have done to become 
so. In fact, it is impossible to conceive, why, in this 
primitive state, one man should have more occasion for the 
assistance of another, than one monkey, or one wolf for 
that of another animal of the same species; or supposing 
that he had, what motive could induce another to assist 
him; or even, in this last case, how he, who wanted as 
sistance, and he from whom it was wanted, could agree 
among themselves upon the conditions. Authors, I know, 
are continually telling us, that in this state man would have 



190 BOUSSEAU 

been a most miserable creature; and if it is true, as I fancy 
I have proved it, that he must have continued many ages 
without either the desire or the opportunity of emerging 
from such a state, this their assertion could only serve 
to justify a charge against nature, and not any against the 
being which nature had thus constituted; but, if I thoroughly 
understand this term miserable, it is a word, that either 
has no meaning, or signifies nothing, but a privation at 
tended with pain, and a suffering state of body or soul; 
now I would fain know what kind of misery can be that of 
a free being, whose heart enjoys perfect peace, and body 
perfect health? And which is aptest to become insupportable 
to those who enjoy it, a civil or a natural life? In civil 
life we can scarcely meet a single person who does not com 
plain of his existence; many even throw away as much of 
it as they can, and the united force of divine and human laws 
can hardly put bounds to this disorder. Was ever any free 
savage known to have been so much as tempted to complain 
of life, and lay violent hands on himself? Let us therefore 
judge with less pride on which side real misery is to be 
placed. Nothing, on the contrary, must have been so unhappy 
as savage man, dazzled by flashes of knowledge, racked 
by passions, and reasoning on a state different from that 
in which he saw himself placed. It was in consequence of 
a very wise Providence, that the faculties, which he potenti 
ally enjoyed, were not to develop themselves but in propor 
tion as there offered occasions to exercise them, lest they 
should be superfluous or troublesome to him when he did 
not want them, or tardy and useless when he did. He had 
in his instinct alone everything requisite to live in a state 
of nature; in his cultivated reason he has barely what is 
necessary to live in a state of society. 

It appears at first sight that, as there was no kind of 
moral relations between men in this state, nor any known 
duties, they could not be either good or bad, and had neither 
vices nor virtues, unless we take these words in a physical 
sense, and call vices, in the individual, the qualities which 
may prove detrimental to his own preservation, and virtues 
those which may contribute to it; in which case we should 
be obliged to consider him as most virtuous, who made 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 191 

least resistance against the simple impulses of nature. But 
without deviating from the usual meaning of these terms, it 
is proper to suspend the judgment we might form of such 
a situation, and be upon our guard against prejudice, till, 
the balance in hand, we have examined whether there are 
more virtues or vices among civilized men; or whether 
the improvement of their understanding is sufficient to com 
pensate the damage which they mutually do to each other, 
in proportion as they become better informed of the services 
which they ought to do; or whether, upon the whole, they 
would not be much happier in a condition, where they 
had nothing to fear or to hope from each other, than in that 
where they had submitted to an universal subserviency, and 
have obliged themselves to depend for everything upon the 
good will of those, who do not think themselves obliged 
to give anything in return. 

But above all things let us beware concluding with 
Hobbes, that man, as having no idea of goodness, must be 
n:U irally bad; that he is vicious because he does not know 
what virtue is; that he always refuses to do any service 
to those of his own species, because he believes that none 
is due to them; that, in virtue of that right which he justly 
claims to everything he wants, he foolishly looks upon 
himself as proprietor of the whole universe. Hobbes very 
plainly saw the flaws in all the modern definitions of 
natural right: but the consequences, which he draws from 
his own definition, show that it is, in the sense he under 
stands it, equally exceptionable. This author, to argue 
from his own principles, should say that the state of nature, 
being that where the care of our own preservation interferes 
least with the preservation of others, was of course the 
most favourable to peace, and most suitable to mankind; 
wl creas he advances the very reverse in consequence of 
his having injudiciously admitted, as objects of that care 
which savage man should take of his preservation, the sat 
isfaction of numberless passions which are the worfc of 
society, and have rendered laws necessary. A bad man, 
says he, is a robust child. But this is not proving that 
savage man is a robust child; and though we were to grant 
that he was, what could this philosopher infer from such 



192 ROUSSEAU 

a concession? That if this man, when robust, depended on 
others as much as when feeble, there is no excess that he 
would not be guilty of. He would make nothing of striking 
his mother when she delayed ever so little to give him the 
breast; he would claw, and bite, and strangle without re 
morse the first of his younger brothers, that ever so acci 
dentally jostled or otherwise disturbed him. But these are 
two contradictory suppositions in the state of nature, to be 
robust and dependent. Man is weak when dependent, 
and his own master before he grows robust. Hobbes did 
not consider that the same cause, which hinders savages 
from making use of their reason, as our jurisconsults 
pretend, hinders them at the same time from making 
an ill use of their faculties, as he himself pretends; so 
that we may say that savages are not bad, precisely be 
cause they don t know what it is to be good; for it is neither 
the development of the understanding, nor the curb of the 
law, but the calmness of their passions and their ignorance 
of vice that hinders them from doing ill : tantus plus in illis 
proficlt vitiorum ignorantia, quam in his cognito virtutis. 
There is besides another principle that has escaped Hobbes, 
and which, having been given to man to moderate, on cer 
tain occasions, the blind and impetuous sallies of self-love, 
or the desire of self-preservation previous to the appear 
ance of that passion, allays the ardour, with which he 
naturally pursues his private welfare, by an innate abhor 
rence to see beings suffer that resemble him. I shall not 
surely be contradicted, in granting to man the only natural 
virtue,, which the most passionate detractor of human vir 
tues could not deny him, I mean that of pity, a disposition 
suitable to creatures weak as we are, and liable to so many 
evils ; a virtue so much the more universal, and withal use 
ful to man, as it takes place in him of all manner of reflec 
tion; and so natural, that the beasts themselves sometimes 
give evident signs of it. Not to speak of the tenderness 
of mothers for their young; and of the dangers they face 
to screen them from danger ; with what reluctance are horses 
known to trample upon living bodies; one animal never 
passes unmoved by the dead carcass of another animal of 
the same species: there are even some who bestow a kind 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 193 

of sepulture upon their dead fellows; and the mournful 
lowings of cattle, on their entering the slaughter-house, pub 
lish the impression made upon them by the horrible spectacle 
they are there struck with. It is with pleasure we see the 
author of the fable of the bees, forced to acknowledge man 
a compassionate and sensible being; and lay aside, in the 
example he offers to confirm it, his cold and subtle style, 
to place before us the pathetic picture of a man, who, with 
his hands tied up, is obliged to behold a beast of prey tear 
a child from the arms of his mother, and then with his 
teeth grind the tender limbs, and with his claws rend the 
throbbing entrails of the innocent victim. What horrible 
emotions must not such a spectator experience at the sight 
of an event which does not personally concern him? What 
anguish must he not suffer at his not being able to assist 
the fainting mother or the expiring infant? 

Such is the pure motion of nature, anterior to all manner 
of reflection; such is the force of natural pity, which the 
most dissolute manners have as yet found it so difficult to 
extinguish, since we every day see, in our theatrical repre 
sentation, those men sympathize with the unfortunate and 
weep at their sufferings, who, if in the tyrant s place, would 
aggravate the torments of their enemies. Mandeville was 
very sensible that men, in spite of all their morality, would 
never have been better than monsters, if nature had not given 
them pity to assist reason: but he did not perceive that 
from this quality alone flow all the social virtues, which 
he would dispute mankind the possession of. In fact, what 
is generosity, what clemency, what humanity, but pity ap 
plied to the weak, to the guilty, or to the human species in 
general? Even benevolence and friendship, if we judge 
right, will appear the effects of a constant pity, fixed upon 
a particular object: for to wish that a person may not suffer, 
what is it but to wish that he may be happy ? Though it were 
true that commiseration is no more than a sentiment, which 
puts us in the place of him who suffers, a sentiment obscure 
but active in the savage, developed but dormant in civilized 
man, how could this notion affect the truth of what I 
advance, but to make it more evident. In fact, commisera 
tion must be so much the more energetic, the more inti- 

(G) HC xxxiv 



19 4 ROUSSEAU 

mately the animal, that beholds any kind of distress, identifies 
himself with the animal that labours under it. Now it is evi 
dent that this identification must have been infinitely more 
perfect in the state of nature than in the state of reason. It 
is reason that engenders self-love, and reflection that strength 
ens it; it is reason that makes man shrink into himself; it is 
reason that makes him keep aloof from everything that can 
trouble or afflict him : it is philosophy that destroys his con 
nections with other men ; it is in consequence of her dictates 
that he mutters to himself at the sight of another in distress, 
You may perish for aught I care, nothing can hurt me. Noth 
ing less than those evils, which threaten the whole species, 
can disturb the calm sleep of the philosopher, and force him 
from his bed. One man may with impunity murder another 
under his windows ; he has nothing to do but clap his hands 
to his ears, argue a little with himself to hinder nature, that 
startles within him, from identifying him with the unhappy 
sufferer. Savage man wants this admirable talent; and for 
want of wisdom and reason, is always ready foolishly to 
obey the first whispers of humanity. In riots and street- 
brawls the populace flock together, the prudent man sneaks 
off. They are the dregs of the people, the poor basket 
and barrow-women, that part the combatants, and hinder 
gentle folks from cutting one another s throats. 

It is therefore certain that pity is a natural sentiment, which, 
by moderating in every individual the activity of self-love, 
contributes to the mutual preservation of the whole species. 
It is this pity which hurries us without reflection to the as 
sistance of those we see in distress; it is this pity which, in 
a state of nature, stands for laws, for manners, for virtue, 
with this advantage, that no one is tempted to disobey her 
sweet and gentle voice: it is this pity which will always 
hinder a robust savage from plundering a feeble child, or 
infirm old man, of the subsistence they have acquired with 
pain and difficulty, if he has but the least prospect of pro 
viding for himself by any other means : it is this pity which, 
instead of that sublime maxim of argumentative justice, 
Do to others as you would have others do to you, inspires 
all men with that other maxim of natural goodness a great 
deal less perfect, but perhaps more useful, Consult your 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 195 

own happiness with as little prejudice as you can to that of 
others. It is in a word, in this natural sentiment, rather 
than in fine-spun arguments, that we must look for the cause 
of that reluctance which every man would experience to do 
evil, even independently of the maxims of education. Though 
it may be the peculiar happiness of Socrates and other 
geniuses of his stamp, to reason themselves into virtue, the 
human species would long ago have ceased to exist, had it 
depended entirely for its preservation on the reasonings of 
the individuals that compose it. 

With passions so tame, and so salutary a curb, men, 
rather wild than wicked, and more attentive to guard against 
mischief than to do any to other animals, were not exposed 
to any dangerous dissensions: As they kept up no manner 
of correspondence with each other, and were of course 
strangers to vanity, to respect, to esteem, to contempt; as 
they had no notion of what we call Meum and Tuum, nor any 
true idea of justice; as they considered any violence they were 
liable to, as an evil that could be easily repaired, and not 
as an injury that deserved punishment; and as they never 
so much as dreamed of revenge, unless perhaps mechanically 
and unpremeditatedly, as a dog who bites the stone that has 
been thrown at him ; their disputes could seldom be attended 
with bloodshed, were they never occasioned by a more con 
siderable stake than that of subsistence: but there is a more 
dangerous subject of contention, which I must not leave 
unnoticed. 

Among the passions which ruffle the heart of man, there 
is one of a hot and impetuous nature, which renders the 
sexes necessary to each other; a terrible passion which de 
spises all dangers, bears down all obstacles, and to which in 
its transports it seems proper to destroy the human species 
which it is destined to preserve. What must become of 
men abandoned to this lawless and brutal rage, without 
modesty, without shame, and every day disputing the objects 
of their passion at the expense of their blood? 

We must in the first place allow that the more violent 
the passions, the more necessary are laws to restrain them: 
but besides that the disorders and the crimes, to which these 
passions daily give rise among us, sufficiently prove the in- 



196 ROUSSEAU 

sufficiency of laws for that purpose, we would do well to 
look back a little further and examine, if these evils did not 
spring up with the laws themselves ; for at this rate, though 
the laws were capable of repressing these evils, it is the 
least that might be expected from them, seeing it is no 
more than stopping the progress of a mischief which they 
themselves have produced. 

Let us begin by distinguishing between what is moral and 
what is physical in the passion called love. The physical 
part of it is that general desire which prompts the sexes 
to unite with each other; the moral part is that which de 
termines that desire, and fixes it upon a particular object 
to the exclusion of all others, or at least gives it a greater 
degree of energy for this preferred object. Now it is easy 
to perceive that the moral part of love is a factitious senti 
ment, engendered by society, and cried up by the women 
with great care and address in order to establish their 
empire, and secure command to that sex which ought to 
obey. This sentiment, being founded on certain notions 
of beauty and merit which a savage is not capable of 
having, and upon comparisons which he is not capable 
of making, can scarcely exist in him : for as his mind 
was never in a condition to form abstract ideas of reg 
ularity and proportion, neither is his heart susceptible of 
sentiments of admiration and love, which, even without 
our perceiving it, are produced by our application of 
these ideas; he listens solely to the dispositions implanted 
in him by nature, and not to taste which he never 
was in a way of acquiring; and every woman answers 
his purpose. 

Confined entirely to what is physical in love, and happy 
enough not to know these preferences which sharpen the 
appetite for it, at the same time that they increase the diffi 
culty of satisfying such appetite, men, in a state of nature, 
must be subject to fewer and less violent fits of that passion, 
and of course there must be fewer and less violent disputes 
among them in consequence of it. The imagination which 
causes so many ravages among us, never speaks to the heart 
of savages, who peaceably wait for the impulses of nature, 
yield to these impulses without choice and with more pleas- 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 197 

ure than fury; and whose desires never outlive their neces 
sity for the thing desired. 

Nothing therefore can be more evident, than that it is 
society alone, which has added even to love itself as well 
as to all the other passions, that impetuous ardour, which 
so often renders it fatal to mankind; and it is so much the 
more ridiculous to represent savages constantly murder 
ing each other to glut their brutality, as this opinion is 
diametrically opposite to experience, and the Caribbeans, 
the people in the world who have as yet deviated least 
from the state of nature, are to all intents and purposes 
the most peaceable in their amours, and the least subject 
to jealousy, though they live in a burning climate which 
seems always to add considerably to the activity of these 
passions. 

As to the inductions which may be drawn, in respect to 
several species of animals, from the battles of the males, 
who in all seasons cover our poultry yards with blood, and 
in spring particularly cause our forests to ring again with 
the noise they make in disputing their females, we must 
begin by excluding all those species, where nature has evi 
dently established, in the relative power of the sexes, rela 
tions different from those which exist among us: thus from 
the battle of cocks we can form no induction that will affect 
the human species. In the species, where the proportion is 
better observed, these battles must be owing entirely to the 
fewness of the females compared with the males, or, which 
is all one, to the exclusive intervals, during which the fe 
males constantly refuse the addresses of the males; for if 
the female admits the male but two months in the year, it is 
all the same as if the number of females were five-sixths 
less than what it is : now neither of these cases is applicable 
to the human species, where the number of females gen 
erally surpasses that of males, and where it has never been 
observed that, even among savages, the females had, like 
those of other animals, stated times of passion and indiffer 
ence. Besides, among several of these animals the whole 
species takes fire all at once, and for some days nothing is 
to be seen among them but confusion, tumult, disorder and 
bloodshed ; a state unknown to the human species where love 






198 ROUSSEAU 

is never periodical. We can not therefore conclude from 
the battles of certain animals for the possession of their 
females, that the same would be the case of man in a state of 
nature ; and though we might, as these contests do not destroy 
the other species, there is at least equal room to think they 
would not be fatal to ours ; nay it is very probable that they 
would cause fewer ravages than they do in society, espe 
cially in those countries where, morality being as yet held 
in some esteem, the jealousy of lovers, and the vengeance 
of husbands every day produce duels, murders and even 
worse crimes; where the duty of an eternal fidelity serves 
only to propagate adultery; and the very laws of continence 
and honour necessarily contribute to increase dissoluteness, 
and multiply abortions. 

Let us conclude that savage man, wandering about in the 
forests, without industry, without speech, without any fixed 
residence, an equal stranger to war and every social con 
nection, without standing in any shape in need of his fellows, 
as well as without any desire of hurting them, and perhaps 
even without ever distinguishing them individually one from 
the other, subject to few passions, and finding in himself all 
he wants, let us, I say, conclude that savage man thus cir 
cumstanced had no knowledge or sentiment but such as are 
proper to that condition, that he was alone sensible of his 
real necessities, took notice of nothing but what it was his 
interest to see, and that his understanding made as little 
progress as his vanity. If he happened to make any dis 
covery, he could the less communicate it as he did not even 
know his children. The art perished with the inventor; 
there was neither education nor improvement; generations 
succeeded generations to no purpose ; and as all constantly set 
out from the same point, whole centuries rolled on in the 
rudeness and barbarity of the first age; the species was 
grown old, while the individual still remained in a state of 
childhood. 

If I have enlarged so much upon the supposition of this 
primitive condition, it is because I thought it my duty, con 
sidering what ancient errors and inveterate prejudices I 
have to extirpate, to dig to the very roots, and show in a 
true picture of the state of nature, how much even natural 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 199 

inequality falls short in this state of that reality and in 
fluence which our writers ascribe to it. 

In fact, we may easily perceive that among the differ 
ences, which distinguish men, several pass for natural, which 
are merely the work of habit and the different kinds of life 
adopted by men living in a social way. Thus a robust or 
delicate constitution, and the strength and weakness which 
depend on it, are oftener produced by the hardy or effem 
inate manner in which a man has been brought up, than by 
the primitive constitution of his body. It is the same thus 
in regard to the forces of the mind ; and education not only 
produces a difference between those minds which are culti 
vated and those which are not, but even increases that 
which is found among the first in proportion to their 
culture; for let a giant and a dwarf set out in the same 
path, the giant at every step will acquire a new advantage 
over the dwarf. Now, if we compare the prodigious variety 
in the education and manner of living of the different orders 
of men in a civil state, with the simplicity and uniformity 
that prevails in the animal and savage life, where all the 
individuals make use of the same aliments, live in the same 
manner, and do exactly the same things, we shall easily con- 
eive how much the difference between man and man in the 
state of nature must be less than in the state of society, and 
how much every inequality of institution must increase the 
natural inequalities of the human species. 

But though nature in the distribution of her gifts should 

really affect all the preferences that are ascribed to her, what 

advantage could the most favoured derive from her partiality 

to the prejudice -f others, in a state of things, which scarce 

:ted any kind of relation between her pupils? Of what 

service can beauty be, where there is no love ? What will wit 

avail people who don t speak, or craft those who have no 

to transact? Authors are constantly crying out that 

the strongest would oppress the weakest; but let them explain 

what they mean by the word oppression. One man will rule 

with violence, another will groan under a constant subjec- 

o all his caprices: this is indeed precisely what I ob- 

erve among us, but I don t see how it can be said of savage 

men, into whose heads it would be a harder matter to drive 



200 ROUSSEAU 

even the meaning of the words domination and servitude. 
One man might, indeed, seize on the fruits which another had 
gathered, on the game which another had killed, on the cav 
ern which another had occupied for shelter ; but how~ is it 
possible he should ever exact obedience from him, and what 
chains of dependence can there be among men who possess 
nothing? If I am driven from one tree, I have nothing to 
do but look out for another; if one place is made uneasy to 
me, what can hinder me from taking up my quarters else 
where ? But suppose I should meet a man so much superior 
to me in strength, and withal so wicked, so lazy and so 
barbarous as to oblige me to provide for his subsistence while 
he remains idle; he must resolve not to take his eyes from 
me a single moment, to bind me fast before he can take the 
least nap, lest I should kill him or give him the slip during 
his sleep: that is to say, he must expose himself voluntarily 
to much greater troubles than what he seeks to avoid, than 
any he gives me. And after all, let him abate ever so little 
of his vigilance; let him at some sudden noise but turn his 
head another way; I am already buried in the forest, my 
fetters are broke, and he never sees me again. 

But without insisting any longer upon these details, every 
one must see that, as the bonds of servitude are formed 
merely by the mutual dependence of men one upon another 
and the reciprocal necessities which unite them, it is im 
possible for one man to enslave another, without having first 
reduced him to a condition in which he can not live without 
the enslaver s assistance ; a condition which, as it does not 
exist in a state of nature, must leave every man his own 
master, and render the law of the strongest altogether vain 
and useless. 

Having proved that the inequality, which may subsist be 
tween man and man in a state of nature, is almost imper- 
ceivable, and that it has very little influence, I must now 
proceed to show its origin, and trace its progress, in the 
successive developments of the human mind. After having 
showed, that perfectibility, the social virtues, and the other 
faculties, which natural man had received in potentia, could 
never be developed of themselves, that for that purpose there 
was a necessity for the fortuitous concurrence of several 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 201 

foreign causes, which might never happen, and without 
which he must have eternally remained in his primitive con 
dition; I must proceed to consider and bring together the 
different accidents which may have perfected the human un 
derstanding by debasing the species, render a being wicked 
by rendering him sociable, and from so remote a term bring 
man at last and the world to the point in which we now 
see them. 

I must own that,, as the events I am about to describe 
might have happened many different ways, my choice of 
these I shall assign can be grounded on nothing but mere 
conjecture; but besides these conjectures becoming reasons, 
when they are not only the most probable that can be drawn 
from the nature of things, but the only means we can have 
of discovering truth, the consequences I mean to deduce 
from mine will not be merely conjectural, since, on the prin 
ciples I have just established, it is impossible to form any 
other system, that would not supply me with the same results, 
and from which I might not draw the same conclusions. 

This will authorize me to be the more concise in my reflec 
tions on the manner, in which the lapse of time makes amends 
for the little verisimilitude of events ; on the surprising power 
of very trivial causes, when they act without intermission; 
on the impossibility there is on the one hand of destroying 
certain Hypotheses, if on the other we can not give them 
the degree of certainty which facts must be allowed to 
possess; on its being the business of history, when two facts 
are proposed, as real, to be connected by a chain of inter 
mediate facts which are either unknown or considered as 
such, to furnish such facts as may actually connect them; 
and the business of philosophy, when history is silent, to 
point out similar facts which may answer the same purpose ; 
in fine on the privilege of similitude, in regard to events, to 
reduce facts to a much smaller number of different classes 
than is generally imagined. It suffices me to offer these ob 
jects to the consideration of my judges; it suffices me to 
have conducted my inquiry in such a manner as to save com 
mon readers the trouble of considering them. 



SECOND PART 

THE first man, who, after enclosing a piece of ground, 
took it into his head to say, " This is mine," and found 
people simple enough to believe him, was the true 
founder of civil society. How many crimes, how many wars, 
how many murders, how many misfortunes and horrors, 
would that man have saved the human species, who pulling 
up the stakes or filling up the ditches should have cried to 
his fellows: Be sure not to listen to this imposter; you are 
lost, if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong equally 
to us all, and the earth itself to nobody ! But it is highly 
probable that things were now come to such a pass, that they 
could not continue much longer in the same way; for as 
this idea of property depends on several prior ideas which 
could only spring up gradually one after another, it was 
not formed all at once in the human mind: men must have 
made great progress; they must have acquired a great 
stock of industry and knowledge, and transmitted and in 
creased it from age to age before they could arrive at this 
last term of the state of nature. Let us therefore take up 
things a little higher, and collect into one point of view, and 
in their most natural order, this slow succession of events 
and mental improvements. 

The first sentiment of man was that of his existence, his 
first care that of preserving it. The productions of the earth 
yielded him all the assistance he required ; instinct prompted 
him to make use of them. Among the various appetites, 
which made him at different times experience different modes 
of existence, there was one that excited him to perpetuate 
his species; and this blind propensity, quite void of any 
thing like pure love or affection, produced nothing but an 
act that was merely animal. The present heat once al 
layed, the sexes took no further notice of each other, and 
even the child ceased to have any tie in his mother, the 
moment he ceased to want her assistance. 

Such was the condition of infant man ; such was the life 
of an animal confined at first to pure sensations, and so far 
from harbouring any thought of forcing her gifts from 

202 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 203 

nature, that he scarcely availed himself of those which she 
offered to him of her own accord. But difficulties soon 
arose, and there was a necessity for learning how to surmount 
them: the height of some trees, which prevented his reach 
ing their fruits; the competition of other animals equally 
fond of the same fruits; the fierceness of many that even 
aimed at his life; these were so many circumstances, which 
obliged him to apply to bodily exercise. There was a neces 
sity for becoming active, swift-footed, and sturdy in battle. 
The natural arms, which are stones and the branches of 
trees, soon offered themselves to his assistance. He learned 
to surmount the obstacles of nature, to contend in case of 
necessity with other animals, to dispute his subsistence even 
with other men, or indemnify himself for the loss of what 
ever he found himself obliged to part with to the strongest. 

In proportion as the human species grew more numerous, 
and extended itself, its pains likewise multiplied and in 
creased. The difference of soils, climates and seasons, 
might have forced men to observe some difference in their 
way of living. Bad harvests, long and severe winters, and 
scorching summers which parched up all the fruits of the 
earth, required extraordinary exertions of industry. On 
the sea shore, and the banks of rivers, they invented the line 
and the hook, and became fishermen and ichthyophagous. In 
the forests they made themselves bows and arrows, and be 
came huntsmen and warriors. In the cold countries they 
covered themselves with the skins of the beasts they had 
killed ; thunder, a volcano, or some happy accident made them 
acquainted with fire, a new resource against the rigours of 
winter: they discovered the method of preserving this ele 
ment, then that of reproducing it, and lastly the way of 
preparing with it the flesh of animals, which heretofore 
they devoured raw from the carcass. 

This reiterated application of various beings to himself, 
and to one another, must have naturally engendered in the 
mind of man the idea of certain relations. These relations, 
which we express by the words, great, little, strong, weak, 
swift, slow, fearful, bold, and the like, compared occasionally, 
and almost without thinking of it, produced in him some 
kind of reflection, or rather a mechanical prudence, which 



204 ROUSSEAU 

pointed out to him the precautions most essential to his 
preservation and safety. 

The new lights resulting from this development increased 
his superiority over other animals, by making him sensible of 
it. He laid himself out to ensnare them; he played them a 
thousand tricks; and though several surpassed him in strength 
or in swiftness, he in time became the master of those that 
could be of any service to him, and a sore enemy to those 
that could do him any mischief. Tis thus, that the first 
look he gave into himself produced the first emotion of 
pride in him; tis thus that, at a time he scarce knew how 
to distinguish between the different ranks of existence, by 
attributing to his species the first rank among animals in 
general, he prepared himself at a distance to pretend to it as 
an individual among those of his own species in particular. 

Though other men were not to him what they are to us, 
and he had scarce more intercourse with them than with 
other animals, they were not overlooked in his observations. 
The conformities, which in time he might discover between 
them, and between himself and his female, made him judge 
of those he did not perceive; and seeing that they all behaved 
as himself would have done in similar circumstances, he 
concluded that their manner of thinking and willing was 
quite conformable to his own; and this important truth, 
when once engraved deeply on his mind, made him follow, 
by a presentiment as sure as any logic, and withal much 
quicker, the best rules of conduct, which for the sake of 
his own safety and advantage it was proper he should ob 
serve towards them. 

Instructed by experience that the love of happiness is 
the sole principle of all human actions, he found himself 
in a condition to distinguish the few cases, in which common 
interest might authorize him to build upon the assistance 
of his fellows, and those still fewer, in which a competition 
of interests might justly render it suspected. In the first 
case he^ united with them in the same flock, or at most by 
some kind of free association which obliged none of its 
members, and lasted no longer than the transitory necessity 
that had given birth to it. In the second case every one 
aimed at his own private advantage, either by open force 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 205 

if he found himself strong enough, or by cunning and address 
if he thought himself too weak to use violence. 

Such was the manner in which men might have insensibly 
acquired some gross idea of their mutual engagements and 
the advantage of fulfilling them, but this only as far as 
their present and sensible interest required; for as to fore 
sight they were utter strangers to it, and far from troubling 
their heads about a distant futurity, they scarce thought of 
the day following-. Was a deer to be taken? Every one 
saw that to succeed he must faithfully stand to his post; 
but suppose a hare to have slipped by within reach of any 
one of them, it is not to be doubted but he pursued it with 
out scruple, and when he had seized his prey never re 
proached himself with having made his companions miss 
theirs. 

We may easily conceive that such an intercourse scarce 
required a more refined language than that of crows and 
monkeys, which flock together almost in the same manner. 
Inarticulate exclamations, a great many gestures, and some 
imitative sounds, must have been for a long time the univer 
sal language of mankind, and by joining to these in every 
country some articulate and conventional sounds, of which, 
as I have already hinted, it is not very easy to explain the 
institution, there arose particular languages, but rude, 
imperfect, and such nearly as are to be found at this day 
among several savage nations. My pen straightened by the 
rapidity of time, the abundance of things I have to say, and 
the almost insensible progress of the first improvements, 
flies like an arrow over numberless ages, for the slower 
the succession of events, the quicker I may allow myself to 
be in relating them. 

At length, these first improvements enabled man to im 
prove at a greater rate. Industry grew perfect in proportion 
as the mind became more enlightened. Men soon ceasing 
to fall asleep under the first tree, or take shelter in the first 
cavern, lit upon some hard and sharp kinds of stone re 
sembling spades or hatchets, and employed them to dig the 
ground, cut down trees, and with the branches build huts, 
which they afterwards bethought themselves of plastering 
over with clay or dirt. This was the epoch of a first revo- 



206 ROUSSEAU 

lution, which produced the establishment and distinction of 
families, and which introduced a species of property, 
and along with it perhaps a thousand quarrels and 
battles. As the strongest however were probably the first 
to make themselves cabins, which they knew they were able 
to defend, we may conclude that the weak found it much 
shorter and safer to imitate than to attempt to dislodge 
them: and as to those, who were already provided with 
cabins, no one could have any great temptation to 
seize upon that of his neighbour, not so much because it 
did not belong to him, as because it could be of no service 
to him ; and as besides to make himself master of it, he must 
expose himself to a very sharp conflict with the present 
occupiers. 

The first developments of the heart were the effects of 
a new situation, which united husbands and wives, parents 
and children, under one roof; the habit of living together 
gave birth to the sweetest sentiments the human species is 
acquainted with, conjugal and paternal love. Every family 
became a little society, so much the more firmly united, as 
a mutual attachment and liberty were the only bonds of it; 
and it was now that the sexes, whose way of life had been 
hitherto the same, began to adopt different manners and 
customs. The women became more sedentary, and accus 
tomed themselves to stay at home and look after the children, 
while the men rambled abroad in quest of subsistence for the 
whole family. The two sexes likewise by living a little more 
at their ease began to lose somewhat of their usual ferocity 
and sturdiness; but if on the one hand individuals became 
less able to engage separately with wild beasts, they on the 
other were more easily got together to make a common 
resistance against them. 

In this new state of things, the simplicity and solitariness 
of man s life, the limitedness of his wants, and the instru 
ments which he had invented to satisfy them, leaving him 
a great deal of leisure, he employed it to supply himself 
with several conveniences unknown to his ancestors; and 
this was the first yoke he inadvertently imposed upon him 
self, and the first source of mischief which he prepared for 
his children; for besides continuing in this manner to soften 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 207 

both body and mind, these conveniences having through 
use lost almost all their aptness to please, and even degen 
erated into real wants, the privation of them became far 
more intolerable than the possession of them had been 
agreeable; to lose them was a misfortune, to possess them 
no happiness. 

Here we may a little better discover how the use of 
speech insensibly commences or improves in the bosom of 
every family, and may likewise from conjectures concerning 
the manner in which divers particular causes might have 
propagated language, and accelerated its progress by ren 
dering it every day more and more necessary. Great in 
undations or earthquakes surrounded inhabited districts 
with water or precipices, portions of the continent were by 
revolutions of the globe torn off and split into islands. It 
is obvious that among men thus collected, and forced to 
live together, a common idiom must have started up much 
sooner, than among those who freely wandered through the 
forests of the main land. Thus it is very possible that the 
inhabitants of the islands formed in this manner, after their 
first essays in navigation, brought among us the use of 
speech; and it is very probable at least that society and 
languages commenced in islands and even acquired perfec 
tion there, before the inhabitants of the continent knew 
anything of either. 

Everything now begins to wear a new aspect. Those 
who heretofore wandered through the woods, by taking to a 
more settled way of life, gradually flock together, coalesce 
into several separate bodies, and at length form in every 
country distinct nations, united in character and manners, 
not by any laws or regulations, but by an uniform manner 
of life, a sameness of provisions, and the common influence 
of the climate. A permanent neighborhood must at last 
infallibly create some connection between different fam 
ilies. The transitory commerce required by nature soon 
produced, among the youth of both sexes living in con 
tiguous cabins, another kind of commerce, which besides 
being equally agreeable is rendered more durable by mutual 
intercourse. Men begin to consider different objects, and 
to make comparisons; they insensibly acquire ideas of merit 



208 ROUSSEAU 

and beauty, and these soon produce sentiments of preference. 
By seeing each other often they contract a habit, which 
makes it painful not to see each other always. Tender and 
agreeable sentiments steal into the soul, and are by the 
smallest opposition wound up into the most impetuous fury : 
Jealousy kindles with love; discord triumphs; and the gen 
tlest of passions requires sacrifices of human blood to 
appease it. 

In proportion as ideas and sentiments succeed each other, 
and the head and the heart exercise themselves, men continue 
to shake off their original wildness, and their connections 
become more intimate and extensive. They now begin to 
assemble round a great tree: singing and dancing, the gen 
uine offspring of love and leisure, become the amuse 
ment or rather the occupation of the men and women, free 
from care, thus gathered together. Every one begins 
to survey the rest, and wishes to be surveyed himself; and 
public esteem acquires a value. He who sings or dances 
best; the handsomest, the strongest, the most dexterous, the 
most eloquent, comes to be the most respected : this was the 
first step towards inequality, and at the same time towards 
vice. From these first preferences there proceeded on one 
side vanity and contempt, on the other envy and shame; 
and the fermentation raised by these new leavens 
at length produced combinations fatal to happiness and 
innocence. 

Men no sooner began to set a value upon each other, and 
know what esteem was, than each laid claim to it, and it 
was no longer safe for any man to refuse it to another. 
Hence the first duties of civility and politeness, even among 
savages; and hence every voluntary injury became an af 
front^ as besides the mischief, which resulted from it as 
an injury, the party offended was sure to find in it a con 
tempt for his person more intolerable than the mischief 
It was thus that every man, punishing the contempt 
expressed for him by others in proportion to the value he 
set upon himself, the effects of revenge became terrible, and 
men learned to be sanguinary and cruel. Such precisely 
was the degree attained by most of the savage nations with 
whom we are acquainted. And it is for want of sufficiently 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 209 

distinguishing ideas, and observing at how great a distance 
these people were from the first state of nature, that so 
many authors have hastily concluded that man is naturally 
cruel, and requires a regular system of police to be reclaimed ; 
whereas nothing can be more gentle than he in his prim 
itive state, when placed by nature at an equal distance from 
the stupidity of brutes, and the pernicious good sense of 
civilized man; and equally confined by instinct and reason 
to the care of providing against the mischief which threat 
ens him, he is withheld by natural compassion from doing 
any injury to others, so far from being ever so little prone 
even to return that which he has received. For according 
to the axiom of the wise Locke, Where there is no prop 
erty, there can be no injury. 

But we must take notice, that the society now formed and 
the relations now established among men required in them 
qualities different from those, which they derived from 
their primitive constitution; that as a sense of morality 
began to insinuate itself into human actions, and every 
man, before the enacting of laws, was the only judge 
and avenger of the injuries he had received, that good 
ness of heart suitable to the pure state of nature by no 
means suited infant society; that it was necessary pun 
ishments should become severer in the same proportion 
that the opportunities of offending became more frequent, 
and the dread of vengeance add strength to the too weak 
curb of the law. Thus, though men were become less 
patient, and natural compassion had already suffered some 
alteration, this period of the development of the human 
faculties, holding a just mean between the indolence of the 
primitive state, and the petulant activity of self-love, must 
have been the happiest and most durable epoch. The more 
we reflect on this state, the more convinced we shall be, that 
it was the least subject of any to revolutions, the best for 
man, and that nothing could have drawn him out of 
it but some fatal accident, which, for the public good, should 
never have happened. The example of the savages, most of 
whom have been found in this condition, seems to confirm 
that mankind was formed ever to remain in it, that this 
condition is the real youth of the world, and that all ulterior 



J10 ROUSSEAU 

improvements have been so many steps, in appearance 
towards the perfection of individuals, but in fact towards 
the decrepitness of the species. 

As long as men remained satisfied with their rustic cabins ; 
as long as they confined themselves to the use of clothes 
made of the skins of other animals, and the use of thorns 
and fish-bones, in putting these skins together; as long as 
they continued to consider feathers and shells as sufficient 
ornaments, and to paint their bodies of different colours, 
to improve or ornament their bows and arrows, to form and 
scoop out with sharp-edged stones some little fishing boats, 
or clumsy instruments of music; in a word, as long as they 
undertook such works only as a single person could finish, 
and stuck to such arts as did not require the joint endeavours 
of several hands, they lived free, healthy, honest and happy, 
as much as their nature would admit, and continued to enjoy 
with each other all the pleasures of an independent inter 
course; but from the moment one man began to stand in 
need of another s assistance; from the moment it appeared 
an advantage for one man to possess the quantity of provi 
sions requisite for two, all equality vanished; property 
started up ; labour became necessary ; and boundless forests 
became smiling fields, which it was found necessary to 
water with human sweat, and in which slavery and misery 
were soon seen to sprout out and grow with the fruits of 
the earth. 

Metallurgy and agriculture were the two arts whose in 
vention produced this great revolution. With the poet, it 
is gold and silver, but with the philosopher it is iron and 
corn, which have civilized men, and ruined mankind. Ac 
cordingly both one and the other were unknown to the 
savages of America, who for that very reason have al 
ways continued savages; nay other nations seem to have 
continued in a state of barbarism, as long as they continued 
to exercise one only of these arts without the other; and 
perhaps one of the best reasons that can be assigned, why 
Europe has been, if not earlier, at least more constantly 
and better civilized than the other quarters of the world, 
is that she both abounds most in iron and is best qualified 
to produce corn. 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 211 

It is a very difficult matter to tell how men came to 
know anything of iron, and the art of employing it: for 
we are not to suppose that they should of themselves think 
of digging it out of the mines, and preparing it for fusion, 
before they knew what could be the result of such a process. 
On the other hand, there is the less reason to attribute this 
discovery to any accidental fire, as mines are formed no 
where but in dry and barren places, and such as are bare 
of trees and plants, so that it looks as if nature had taken 
pains to keep from us so mischievous a secret. Nothing 
therefore remains but the extraordinary circumstance of 
some volcano, which, belching forth metallic substances 
ready fused, might have given the spectators a notion of 
imitating that operation of nature; and after all we must 
suppose them endued with an extraordinary stock of 
courage and foresight to undertake so painful a work, and 
have, at so great a distance, an eye to the advantages they 
might derive from it; qualities scarcely suitable but to 
heads more exercised, than those of such discoverers can 
be supposed to have been. 

^ As to agriculture, the principles of it were known a long 
time before the practice of it took place, and it is hardly 
possible that men, constantly employed in drawing their 
subsistence from trees and plants, should not have early 
hit on the means employed by nature for the generation of 
vegetables; but in all probability it was very late before 
their industry took a turn that way, either because trees, 
which with their land and water game supplied them with 
sufficient food, did not require their attention; or because 
they did not know the use of corn; or because they had no 
instruments to cultivate it; or because they were destitute 
of foresight in regard to future necessities; or in fine, be 
cause they wanted means to hinder others from running 
away with the fruit of their labours. We may believe that 
on their becoming more industrious they began their agri 
culture by cultivating with sharp stones and pointed sticks 
a few pulse or roots about their cabins; and that it was 
a long-time before they knew the method of preparing corn, 
and were provided with instruments necessary to raise it 
in large quantities; not to mention the necessity there is, 



212 



ROUSSEAU 



in order to follow this occupation and sow lands, to con 
sent to lose something at present to gain a great deal here 
after; a precaution very foreign to the turn of man s mind 
in a savage state, in which, as I have already taken notice, 
he can hardly foresee his wants from morning to night. 

For this reason the invention of other arts must have 
been necessary to oblige mankind to apply to that of agri 
culture. As soon as men were wanted to fuse and forge 
iron, others were wanted to maintain them. The more 
hands were employed in manufactures, the fewer hands were 
left to provide subsistence for all, though the number of 
mouths to be supplied with food continued the same ; and as 
some required commodities in exchange for their iron, the 
rest at last found out the method of making iron subservient 
to the multiplication of commodities. Hence on the one 
hand husbandry and agriculture, and on the other the art 
of working metals and of multiplying the uses of them. 

To the tilling of the earth the distribution of it neces 
sarily succeeded, and to property once acknowledged, the 
first rules of justice: for to secure every man his own, 
every man must have something. Moreover, as men began 
to extend their views to futurity, and all found themselves 
in possession of more or less goods capable of being lost, 
every one in particular had reason to fear, lest reprisals 
should be made on him for any injury he might do to others. 
This origin is so much the more natural, as it is impossible 
to conceive how property can flow from any other source 
but industry; for what can a man add but his labour to 
things which he has not made, in order to acquire a property 
in them? Tis the labour of the hands alone, which giving 
the husbandman a title to the produce of the land he has 
tilled gives him a title to the land itself, at least till he has 
gathered in the fruits of it, and so on from year to year; 
and this enjoyment forming a continued possession is easily 
transformed into a property. The ancients, says Grotius, 
by giving to Ceres the epithet of Legislatrix, and to a 
festival celebrated in her honour the name of Thesmorphoria, 
insinuated that the distribution of lands produced a new 
kind of right; that is, the right of property different from 
that which results from the law of nature. 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 213 

Things thus circumstanced might have remained equal, 
if men s talents had been equal, and if, for instance, the 
use of iron, and the consumption of commodities had always 
held an exact proportion to each other; but as this propor 
tion had no support, it was soon broken. The man that had 
most strength performed most labour; the most dexterous 
turned his labour to best account; the most ingenious found 
out methods of lessening his labour; the husbandman re 
quired more iron, or the smith more corn, and while both 
worked equally, one earned a great deal by his labour, while 
the other could scarce live by his. It is thus that natural 
inequality insensibly unfolds itself with that arising from 
a variety of combinations, and that the difference among 
men, developed by the difference of their circumstances, be 
comes more sensible, more permanent in its effects, and be 
gins to influence in the same proportion the condition of 
private persons. 

Things once arrived at this period, it is an easy matter to 
imagine the rest. I shall not stop to describe the successive 
inventions of other arts, the progress of language, the trial 
and employments of talents, the inequality of fortunes, 
the use or abuse of riches, nor all the details which 
follow these, and which every one may easily supply. I 
shall just give a glance at mankind placed in this new order 
of things. 

Behold then all our faculties developed; our memory and 
imagination at work, self-love interested; reason rendered 
active; and the mind almost arrived at the utmost bounds 
of that perfection it is capable of. Behold all our natural 
qualities put in motion ; the rank and condition of every man 
established, not only as to the quantum of property and the 
power of serving or hurting others, but likewise as to 
genius, beauty, strength or address, merit or talents; and as 
these were the only qualities which could command respect, it 
was found necessary to have or at least to affect them. It 
was requisite for men to be thought what they really were 
not. To be and to appear became two very different 
things, and from this distinction sprang pomp and knavery, 
and all the vices which form their train. On the other 
hand, man, heretofore free and independent, was now in 



214 ROUSSEAU 

consequence of a multitude of new wants brought tinder 
subjection, as it were, to all nature, and especially to his 
fellows, whose slave in some sense he became even by be 
coming their master; if rich, he stood in need of their ser 
vices, if poor, of their assistance; even mediocrity itself 
could not enable him to do without them. He must there 
fore have been continually at work to interest them in his 
happiness, and make them, if not really, at least apparently 
find their advantage in labouring for his : this rendered him 
sly and artful in his dealings with some, imperious and cruel 
in his dealings with others, and laid him under the neces 
sity of using ill all those whom he stood in need of, as often 
as he could not awe them into a compliance with his will, 
and did not find it his interest to purchase it at the expense 
of real services. In fine, an insatiable ambition, the rage of 
raising their relative fortunes, not so much through real ne 
cessity, as to over-top others, inspire all men with a wicked 
inclination to injure each other, and with a secret jealousy 
so much the more dangerous, as to carry its point with the 
greater security, it often puts on the face of benevolence. In 
a word, sometimes nothing was to be seen but a contention of 
endeavours on the one hand, and an opposition of interests on 
the other, while a secret desire of thriving at the expense of 
others constantly prevailed. Such were the first effects of 
property, and the inseparable attendants of infant inequality. 
Riches, before the invention of signs to represent them, 
could scarce consist in anything but lands and cattle, the only 
real goods which men can possess. Butiwhen estates in 
creased so much in number and in extent as to take in whole 
countries and touch each other, it became impossible for one 
man to aggrandise himself but at the expense of some other ;! 
and the supernumerary inhabitants, who were too weak"*br 
too indolent to make such acquisitions in their turn, impov 
erished without losing anything, because while everything 
about them changed they alone remained the same, were 
obliged to receive or force their subsistence from the hands 
of the rich. And hence began to flow, according to the 
different characters of each," domination and slavery, or 
violence and rapine. The rich on their side scarce began 
to taste the pleasure of commanding, when they preferred 









DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 215 

it to every other; and making use of their old slaves to ac 
quire new ones, they no longer thought of anything but sub 
duing and enslaving their neighbours; like those ravenous 
wolves, who having once tasted human flesh, despise every 
other food, and devour nothing but men for the future. 

It is thus that the most powerful or the most wretched, 
respectively considering their power and wretchedness as 
a kind of title to the substance of others, even equivalent to 
that of property, the equality once broken was followed by 
the most shocking disorders. It is thus that the usurpations 
of the rich, the pillagings of the poor, and the unbridled pas 
sions of all, by stifling the cries of natural compassion, and 
the as yet feeble voice of justice, rendered man avaricious, 
wicked and ambitious. There arose between the title of 
the strongest, and that of the first occupier a perpetual con 
flict, which always ended in battery and bloodshed. In 
fant society became a scene of the most horrible warfare: 
Mankind thus debased and harassed, and no longer able to 
retreat, or renounce the unhappy acquisitions it had made; 
labouring, in short merely to its confusion by the abuse of 
those faculties, which in themselves do it so much honour, 
brought itself to the very brink of ruin and destruction. 

Attonitus novitate mali, divesque miser que, 
Effugerc optat opes y et quce modb voverat^ edit. 

But it is impossible that men should not sooner or later 
have made reflections on so wretched a situation, and upon 
the calamities with which they were overwhelmed- The 
rich in particular must have soon perceived how much they 
suffered by a perpetual war, of which they alone supported 
all the expense, and in which, though all risked life, they 
alone risked any substance. Besides, whatever colour they 
might pretend to give their usurpations, they sufficiently saw 
that these usurpations were in the main founded upon false 
and precarious titles, and that what they had acquired by 
mere force, others could again by mere force wrest out of 
their hands, without leaving them the least room to complain 
of such a proceeding. Even those, who owed all their riches 
to their own industry, could scarce ground their acquisitions 
upon a better title. It availed them nothing to say, Twas I 



216 ROUSSEAU 

built this wall; I acquired this spot by my labour. Who 
traced it out for you, another might object, and what right 
have you to expect payment at our expense for doing that 
we did not oblige you to do? Don t you know that num 
bers of your brethren perish, or suffer grievously for want of 
what you possess more than suffices nature, and that you 
should have had the express and unanimous consent of man 
kind to appropriate to yourself of their common, more than 
was requisite for your private subsistence? Destitute of 
solid reasons to justify, and sufficient force to defend him 
self; crushing individuals with ease, but with equal ease 
crushed by numbers; one against all, and unable, on account 
of mutual jealousies, to unite with his equals against ban 
ditti united by the common hopes of pillage; the rich man, 
thus pressed by necessity, at last conceived the deepest proj 
ect that ever entered the human mind: this was to employ 
in his favour the very forces that attacked him, to make 
allies of his enemies, to inspire them with other maxims, and 
make them adopt other institutions as favourable to his 
pretensions, as the law of nature was unfavourable to them. 

With this view, after laying before his neighbours all the 
horrors of a situation, which armed them all one against 
another, which rendered their possessions as burdensome as 
their wants were intolerable, and in which no one could 
expect any safety either in poverty or riches, he easily 
invented specious arguments to bring them over to his pur 
pose. " Let us unite," said he, " to secure the weak from op 
pression, restrain the ambitious, and secure to every man the 
possession of what belongs to him: Let us form rules of jus 
tice and peace, to which all may be obliged to conform, which 
shall not except persons, but may in some sort make amends 
for the caprice of fortune, by submitting alike the powerful 
and the weak to the observance of mutual duties. In a word, 
instead of turning our forces against ourselves, let us collect 
them into a sovereign power, which may govern us by wise 
laws, may protect and defend all the members of the associa 
tion, repel common enemies, and maintain a perpetual con 
cord and harmony among us." 

Much fewer words of this kind were sufficient to draw in 
a parcel of rustics, whom it was an easy matter to impose 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 217 

upon, who had besides too many quarrels among themselves 
to live without arbiters, and too much avarice and ambi 
tion to live long without masters. All offered their necks 
to the yoke in hopes of securing their liberty; for though 
they had sense enough to perceive the advantages of a 
political constitution, they had not experience enough to 
see beforehand the dangers of it; those among them, who 
were best qualified to foresee abuses, were precisely those 
who expected to benefit by them; even the soberest 
judged it requisite to sacrifice one part of their liberty 
to ensure the other, as a man, dangerously wounded in 
any of his limbs, readily parts with it to save the rest 
of his body. 

Such was, or must have been, had man been left to him 
self, the origin of society and of the laws, which increased 
the fetters of the weak, and the strength of the rich; 
irretrievably destroyed natural liberty, fixed for ever the 
laws of property and inequality; changed an artful usurpation 
into an irrevocable title; and for the benefit of a few am 
bitious individuals subjected the rest of mankind to per 
petual labour, servitude, and misery. We may easily con 
ceive how the establishment of a single society rendered 
that of all the rest absolutely necessary, and how, to make 
head against united forces, it became necessary for the rest 
of mankind to unite in their turn. Societies once formed in 
this manner, soon multiplied or spread to such a degree, as 
to cover the face of the earth ; and not to leave a corner in 
the whole universe, where a man could throw off the yoke, 
and withdraw his head from under the often ill-conducted 
sword which he saw perpetually hanging over it. The civil 
law being thus become the common rule of citizens, the law 
of nature no longer obtained but among the different so 
cieties, in which, under the name of the law of nations, it 
was qualified by some tacit conventions to render com 
merce possible, and supply the place of natural compassion, 
which, losing by degrees all that influence over societies 
which it originally had over individuals, no longer exists 
but in some great souls, who consider themselves as citizens 
of the world, and forcing the imaginary barriers that sepa 
rate people from people, after the example of the Sovereign 



218 ROUSSEAU 

Being from whom we all derive our existence, make the 
whole human race the object of their benevolence. 

Political bodies, thus remaining in a state of nature among 
themselves, soon experienced the inconveniences which had 
obliged individuals to quit it; and this state became much 
more fatal to these great bodies, than it had been before to 
the individuals which now composed them. Hence those 
national wars, those battles, those murders, those reprisals, 
which make nature shudder and shock reason; hence all 
those horrible prejudices, which make it a virtue and an 
honour to shed human blood. The worthiest men learned to 
consider the cutting the throats of their fellows as a duty; 
at length men began to butcher each other by thousands 
without knowing for what; and more murders were com 
mitted in a single action, and more horrible disorders at the 
taking of a single town, than had been committed in the state 
of nature during ages together upon the whole face of the 
earth. Such are the first effects we may conceive to have 
arisen from the division of mankind into different societies. 
Let us return to their institution. 

I know that several writers have assigned other origins of 
political society; as for instance, the conquests of the power 
ful, or the union of the weak; and it is no matter which of 
these causes we adopt in regard to what I am going to 
establish; that, however, which I have just laid down, seems 
to me the most natural, for the following reasons: First, 
because, in the first case, the right of conquest being in 
fact no right at all, it could not serve as a foundation for any 
other right, the conqueror and the conquered ever remaining 
with respect to each other in a state of war, unless the con 
quered, restored to the full possession of their liberty, should 
freely choose their conqueror for their chief. Till then, 
whatever capitulations might have been made between them, 
as these capitulations were founded upon violence, and of 
course de facto null and void, there could not have existed in 
this hypothesis either a true society, or a political body, or 
any other law but that of the strongest. Second, because 
these words strong and weak, are ambiguous in the second 
case; for during the interval between the establishment of 
the right of property or prior occupation and that of political 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 21t 

government, the meaning of these terms is better expressed 
by the words poor and rich, as before the establishment of 
laws men in reality had no other means of reducing their 
equals, but by invading the property of these equals, or by 
parting with some of their own property to them. Third, 
because the poor having nothing but their liberty to lose, it 
would have been the height of madness in them to give up 
willingly the only blessing they had left without obtaining 
some consideration for it: whereas the rich being sensible, 
if I may say so, in every part of their possessions, it was much 
easier to do them mischief, and therefore more incumbent 
upon them to guard against it; and because, in fine, it is but 
reasonable to suppose, that a thing has been invented by him 
to whom it could be of service rather than by him to whom 
it must prove detrimental. 

Government in its infancy had no regular and permanent 
form. For want of a sufficient fund of philosophy and ex 
perience, men could see no further than the present incon 
veniences, and never thought of providing remedies for fu 
ture ones, but in proportion as they arose. In spite of all 
the labours of the wisest legislators, the political state still 
continued imperfect, because it was in a manner the work of 
chance ; and, as the foundations of it were ill laid, time, though 
sufficient to discover its defects and suggest the remedies for 
them, could never mend its original vices. Men were con 
tinually repairing; whereas, to erect a good edifice, they 
should have begun as Lycurgus did at Sparta, by clearing the 
area, and removing the old materials. Society at first con 
sisted merely of some general conventions which all the 
members bound themselves to observe, and for the perform 
ance of which the whole body became security to every in 
dividual. Experience was necessary to show the great weak 
ness of such a constitution, and how easy it was for those, 
who infringed it, to escape the conviction or chastisement of 
faults, of which the public alone was to be both the witness 
and the judge; the laws could not fail of being eluded a 
thousand ways; inconveniences and disorders could not but 
multiply continually, till it was at last found necessary to 
think of committing to private persons the dangerous trust of 
public authority, and to magistrates the care of enforcing 



220 ROUSSEAU 

obedience to the people : for to say that chiefs were elected 
before confederacies were formed, and that the ministers of 
the laws existed before the laws themselves, is a supposition 
too ridiculous to deserve I should seriously refute it. 

It would be equally unreasonable to imagine that men at 
first threw themselves into the arms of an absolute master, 
without any conditions or consideration on his side ; and that 
the first means contrived by jealous and unconquered men 
for their common safety was to run hand over head into 
slavery. In fact, why did they give themselves superiors, if 
it was not to be defended by them against oppression, and pro 
tected in their lives, liberties, and properties, which are in a 
manner the constitutional elements of their being? Now in 
the relations between man and man, the worst that can hap 
pen to one man being to see himself at the discretion of an 
other, would it not have been contrary to the dictates of good 
sense to begin by making over to a chief the only things for 
the preservation of which they stood in need of his assist 
ance? What equivalent could he have offered them for so 
fine a privilege ? And had he presumed to exact it on pre 
tense of defending them, would he not have immediately re 
ceived the answer in the apologue? What worse treatment 
can we expect from an enemy? It is therefore past dispute, 
and indeed a fundamental maxim of political law, that people 
gave themselves chiefs to defend their liberty and not be 
enslaved by them. If we have a prince, said Pliny to Trajan, 
it is in order that he may keep us from having a master. 

Political writers argue in regard to the love of liberty with 
the same philosophy that philosophers do in regard to the 
state of nature; by the things they see they judge of things 
very different which they have never seen, and they attribute 
to men a natural inclination to slavery, on account of the 
patience with which the slaves within their notice cany the 
yoke; not reflecting that it is with liberty as with innocence 
and virtue, the value of which is not known but by those 
who possess them, though the relish for them is lost with the 
things themselves. I know tEe charms of your country, 
said Brasidas to a satrap who was comparing the life of the 
Spartans with that of the Persepolites ; but you can not know 
the pleasures of mine. 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 221 

As an unbroken courser erects his mane, paws the ground, 
and rages at the bare sight of the bit, while a trained horse 
patiently suffers both whip and spur, just so the barbarian 
will never reach his neck to the yoke which civilized man 
carries without murmuring but prefers the most stormy 
liberty to a calm subjection. It is not therefore by the ser 
vile disposition of enslaved nations that we must judge of 
the natural dispositions of man for or against slavery, but by 
the prodigies done by every free people to secure themselves 
from oppression. I know that the first are constantly crying 
up that peace and tranquillity they enjoy in their irons, and 
that miserrimam servitutem pacem appellant: but when I see 
the others sacrifice pleasures, peace, riches, power, and even 
life itself to the preservation of that single jewel so much 
slighted by those who have lost it; when I see free-born 
animals through a natural abhorrence of captivity dash their 
brains out against the bars of their prison; when I see mul 
titudes of naked savages despise European pleasures, and 
brave hunger, fire and sword, and death itself to preserve 
their independency ; I feel that it belongs not to slaves to 
argue concerning liberty. 

As to paternal authority, from which several have derived 
absolute government and every other mode of society, it is 
sufficient, without having recourse to Locke and Sidney, to 
observe that nothing in the world differs more from the 
cruel spirit of despotism that the gentleness of that authority, 
which looks more to the advantage of him who obeys than 
to the utility of him who commands; that by the law of na 
ture the father continues master of his child no longer than 
the child stands in need of his assistance; that after that 
term they become equal, and that then the son, entirely inde 
pendent of the father, owes him no obedience, but only re 
spect. Gratitude is indeed a duty which we are bound to 
pay, but which benefactors can not exact. Instead of saying 
that civil society is derived from paternal authority, we 
should rather say that it is to the former that the latter owes 
its principal force: No one individual was acknowledged as 
the father of several other individuals, till they settled about 
him. The father s goods, which he can indeed dispose of as 
he pleases, are the ties which hold his children to their de- 



222 ROUSSEAU 

pendence upon him, and he may divide his substance among 
them in proportion as they shall have deserved his attention 
by a continual deference to his commands. Now the sub 
jects of a despotic chief, far from having any such favour to 
expect from him, as both themselves and all they have are 
his property, or at least are considered by him as such, are 
obliged to receive as a favour what he relinquishes to them 
of their own property. He does them justice when he 
strips them ; he treats them with mercy when he suffers them 
to live. By continuing in this manner to compare facts with 
right, we should discover as little solidity as truth in the 
voluntary establishment of tyranny ; and it would be a hard 
matter to prove the validity of a contract which was binding 
only on one side, in which one of the parties should stake 
everything and the other nothing, and which could turn out 
to the prejudice of him alone who had bound himself. 

This odious system is even, at this day, far from being 
that of wise and good monarchs, and especially of the kings 
of France, as may be seen by divers passages in their edicts, 
and particularly by that of a celebrated piece published in 
1667 in the name and by the orders of Louis XIV. ^ " Let 
it therefore not be said that the sovereign is not subject to 
the laws of his realm, since, that he is, is a maxim of the 
law of nations which flattery has sometimes attacked, but 
which good princes have always defended as the tutelary 
divinity of their realms. How much more reasonable is it 
to say with the sage Plato, that the perfect happiness of 
a state consists in the subjects obeying their prince, the 
prince obeying the laws, and the laws being equitable and 
always directed to the good of the public? I shall not stop 
to consider, if, liberty being the most noble faculty of man, 
it is not degrading one s nature, reducing one s self to the 
level of brutes, who are the slaves of instinct, and^ even 
offending the author of one s being, to renounce without 
reserve the most precious of his gifts, and submit to the 
commission of all the crimes he has forbid us, merely to 
gratify a mad or a cruel master; and if this sublime artist 
ought to be more irritated at seeing his work destroyed 
than at seeing it dishonoured. I shall only ask what right 
those, who were not afraid thus to degrade themselves, 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 223 

Could have to subject their dependants to the same ignominy, 
and renounce, in the name of their posterity, blessings for 
which it is not indebted to their liberality, and without which 
life itself must appear a burthen to all those who are worthy 
to live. 

Puffendorf says that, as we can transfer our property 
from one to another by contracts and conventions, we may 
likewise divest ourselves of our liberty in favour of other 
men. This, in my opinion, is a very poor way of arguing; 
for, in the first place, the property I cede to another be 
comes by such cession a thing quite foreign to me, and the 
abuse of which can no way affect me; but it concerns me 
greatly that my liberty is not abused, and I can not, without 
incurring the guilt of the crimes I may be forced to commit, 
expose myself to become the instrument of any. Besides, 
the right of property being of mere human convention and 
institution, every man may dispose as he pleases of what he 
possesses : But the case is otherwise with regard to the essen 
tial gifts of nature, such as life and liberty, which every man 
is permitted to enjoy, and of which it is doubtful at least 
whether any man has a right to divest himself: By giving up 
the one, we degrade our being; by giving up the other we 
annihilate it as much as it is our power to do so ; and as no 
temporal enjoyments can indemnify us for the loss of 
either, it would be at once offending both nature and reason 
to renounce them for any consideration. But though we 
could transfer our liberty as we do our substance, the dif 
ference would be very great with regard to our children, 
who enjoy our substance but by a cession of our right; 
whereas liberty being a blessing, which as men they hold 
from nature, their parents have no right to strip them of it ; 
so that as to establish slavery it was necessary to do violence 
to nature, so it was necessary to alter nature to perpetuate 
such a right; and the jurisconsults, who have gravely pro 
nounced that the child of a slave comes a slave into the 
world, have in other words decided, that a man does not 
come a man into the world. 

It therefore appears to me incontestably true, that not only 
governments did not begin by arbitrary power, which is but 
the corruption and extreme term of government, and at 



224 ROUSSEAU 

length brings it back to the law of the strongest, against 
which governments were at first the remedy, but even that, 
allowing they had commenced in this manner, such power 
being illegal in itself could never have served as a founda 
tion to the rights of society, nor of course to the inequality 
of institution. 

I shall not now enter upon the inquiries which still remain 
to be made into the nature of the fundamental pacts of every 
kind of government, but, following the common opinion, con- 
fine myself in this place to the establishment of the political 
body as a real contract between the multitude and the chiefs 
elected by it. A contract by which both parties oblige them 
selves to the observance of the laws that are therein stipu 
lated, and form the bands of their union. The multitude 
having, on occasion of the social relations between them, 
concentered all their wills in one person, all the articles, in 
regard to which this will explains itself, become so many 
fundamental laws, which oblige without exception all the 
members of the state, and one of which laws regulates the 
choice and the power of the magistrates appointed to look 
to the execution of the rest. This power extends to every 
thing that can maintain the constitution, but extends to 
nothing that can alter it. To this power are added honours, 
that may render the laws and the ministers of them respect 
able; and the persons of the ministers are distinguished 
by certain prerogatives, which may make them amends for 
the great fatigues inseparable from a good administration. 
The magistrate, on his side, obliges himself not to use 
the power with which he is intrusted but conformably to 
the intention of his constituents, to maintain every one of 
them in the peaceable possession of his property, and upon 
all occasions prefer the good of the public to his own 
private interest. 

Before experience had demonstrated, or a thorough knowl 
edge of the human heart had pointed out, the abuses insepa 
rable from such a constitution, it must have appeared so much 
the more perfect, as those appointed to look to its preserva 
tion were themselves most concerned therein ; for magistracy 
and its rights being built solely on the fundamental laws, as 
soon as these ceased to exist, the magistrates would cease 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 225 

to be lawful, the people would no longer be bound to obey 
them, and, as the essence of the state did not consist in the 
magistrates but in the laws, the members of it would imme 
diately become entitled to their primitive and natural liberty. 

A little reflection would afford us new arguments in con 
firmation of this truth, and the nature of the contract might 
alone convince us that it can not be irrevocable: for if there 
was no superior power capable of guaranteeing the fidelity 
of the contracting parties and of obliging them to fulfil their 
mutual engagements, they would remain sole judges in their 
own cause, and each of them would always have a right to 
renounce the contract, as soon as he discovered that the 
other had broke the conditions of it, or that these conditions 
ceased to suit his private convenience. Upon this principle, 
the right of abdication may probably be founded. Now, to 
consider as we do nothing but what is human in this in 
stitution, if the magistrate, who has all the power in his own 
hands, and who appropriates to himself all the advantages of 
the contract, has notwithstanding a right to divest himself 
of his authority; how much a better right must the people, 
who pay for all the faults of its chief, have to renounce 
their dependence upon him. But the shocking dissensions 
and disorders without number, which would be the necessary 
consequence of so dangerous a privilege, show more than 
anything else how much human governments stood in need 
of a more solid basis than that of mere reason, and how 
necessary it was for the public tranquillity, that the will of 
the Almighty should interpose to give to sovereign authority, 
a sacred and inviolable character, which should deprive sub 
jects of the mischievous right to dispose of it to whom they 
pleased. If mankind had received no other advantages from 
religion, this alone would be sufficient to make them adopt 
and cherish it, since it is the means of saving more blood 
than fanaticism has been the cause of spilling. But to re 
sume the thread of our hypothesis. 

The various forms of government owe their origin to 
the various degrees of inequality between the members, at 
the time they first coalesced into a political body. Where 
a man happened to be eminent for power, for virtue, for 
riches, or for credit, he became sole magistrate, and the 

( H ) HC xxxiv 



226 ROUSSEAU 

state assumed a monarchical form; if many of pretty equal 
eminence out-topped all the rest, they were jointly elected and 
this election produced an aristocracy; those, between whose 
fortune or talents there happened to be no such dispropor 
tion and who had deviated less from the state of nature, re 
tained in common the supreme administration, and formed 
a democracy. Time demonstrated which of these forms 
suited mankind best. Some remained altogether subject to 
the laws- others soon bowed their necks to masters, ine 
former laboured to preserve their liberty; the latter thought 
of nothing but invading that of their neighbours, jealous at 
seeing others enjoy a blessing which themselves had lost. 
In a word, riches and conquest fell to the share of the one, 
and virtue and happiness to that of the other. 

In these various modes of government the offices at first 
were all elective; and when riches did not preponderate, the 
preference was" given to merit, which gives a natural as 
cendant, and to age, which is the parent of deliberateness 
in council, and experience in execution. The ancients 
among the Hebrews, the Geronts of Sparta, the Senate ( 
Rome, nay, the very etymology of our word seigneur, show 
how much gray hairs were formerly respected. The oftener 
the choice fell upon old men, the oftener it became necessary 
to repeat it, and the more the trouble of such repetitions be 
came sensible; electioneering took place; factions arose; the 
parties contracted ill blood; civil wars blazed forth; the lives 
of the citizens were sacrificed to the pretended happiness of 
the state; and things at last came to such a pass, as to be 
ready to relapse into their primitive confusion. The ambi 
tion of the principal men induced them to take advantage 
of these circumstances to perpetuate the hitherto temporary 
charges in their families; the people already inured to de 
pendence, accustomed to ease and the conveniences of life, 
and too much enervated to break their fetters, consented to 
the increase of their slavery for the sake of securing their 
tranquillity; and it is thus that chiefs, become hereditary, 
contracted the habit of considering magistracies as a family 
estate, and themselves as proprietors of those communities, 
of which at first they were but mere officers; to call their 
fellow-citizens their slaves; to look upon them, like so many 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 227 

cows or sheep, as a part of their substance ; and to style them 
selves the peers of Gods, and Kings of Kings. 

By pursuing the progress of inequality in these different 
revolutions, we shall discover that the establishment of laws 
and^of the right of property was the first term of it; the 
institution of magistrates the second; and the third and last 
the changing of legal into arbitrary power ; so that the dif 
ferent states of rich and poor were authorized by the first 
epoch; those of powerful and weak by the second; and by 
the third those of master and slave, which formed the last 
degree of inequality, and the term in which all the rest at 
last end, till new revolutions entirely dissolve the govern 
ment, or bring it back nearer to its legal constitution. 

To conceive the necessity of this progress, we are not so 
much to consider the motives for the establishment of 
political bodies, as the forms these bodies assume in their 
administration; and the inconveniences with which they are 
essentially attended; for those vices, which render social 
institutions necessary, are the same which render the abuse 
of such institutions unavoidable; and as (Sparta alone ex- 
cepted, whose laws chiefly regarded the education of chil 
dren, and where Lycurgus established such manners and 
customs, as in a great measure made laws needless,) the 
laws, in general less strong than the passions, restrain men 
without changing them; it would be no hard matter to prove 
that every government, which carefully guarding against all 
alteration and corruption should scrupulously comply with 
the ends of its institution, was unnecessarily instituted; and 
that a country, where no one either eluded the laws, or 
made an ill use of magistracy, required neither laws nor 
magistrates. 

Political distinctions are necessarily attended with civil 
distinctions. The inequality between the people and the chiefs 
increase so fast as to be soon felt by the private members, 
and appears among them in a thousand shapes according 
to their passions, their talents, and the circumstances of 
affairs. The magistrate can not usurp any illegal power 
without making himself creatures, with whom he must 
divide it. Besides, the citizens of a free state suffer them 
selves to be oppressed merely in proportion as, hurried oa 



228 ROUSSEAU 

by a blind ambition, and looking rather below than above 
them, they come to love authority more than independence. 
When they submit to fetters, tis only to be the better able 
to fetter others in their turn. It is no easy matter to make 
him obey, who does not wish to command; and the most 
refined policy would find it impossible to subdue those men, 
who only desire to be independent; but inequality easily 
gains ground among base and ambitious souls, ever ready 
to run the risks of fortune, and almost indifferent whether 
they command or obey, as she proves either favourable or 
adverse to them. Thus then there must have been a time, 
when the eyes of the people were bewitched to such a 
degree, that their rulers needed only to have said to the 
most pitiful wretch, " Be great you and all your posterity," 
to make him immediately appear great in the eyes of every 
one as well as in his own; and his descendants took still 
more upon them, in proportion to their removes from him: 
the more distant and uncertain the cause, the greater the 
effect ; the longer line of drones a family produced, the more 
illustrious it was reckoned. 

Were this a proper place to enter into details, I could 
easily explain in what manner inequalities in point of credit 
and authority become unavoidable among private persons 
the moment that, united into one body, they are obliged 
to compare themselves one with another, and to note the 
differences which they find in the continual use every man 
must make of his neighbour. These differences are of several 
kinds ; but riches, nobility or rank, power and personal merit, 
being in general the principal distinctions, by which men 
in society measure each other, I could prove that the 
harmony or conflict between these different forces is the 
surest indication of the good or bad original constitution of 
any state : I could make it appear that, as among these four 
kinds of inequality, personal qualities are the source of all 
the rest, riches is that in which they ultimately terminate, 
because, being the most immediately useful to the prosperity 
of individuals, and the most easy to communicate, they are 
made use of to purchase every other distinction. By this 
observation we are enabled to judge with tolerable exact 
ness, how much any people has deviated from its primitive 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 229 

institution, and what steps it has still to make to the ex 
treme term of corruption. I could show how much this 
universal desire of reputation, of honours, of preference, 
with which we are all devoured, exercises and compares our 
talents and our forces: how much it excites and multiplies 
our passions; and, by creating an universal competition, 
rivalship, or rather enmity among men, how many dis 
appointments, successes, and catastrophes of every kind it 
daily causes among the innumerable pretenders whom it 
engages in the same career. I could show that it is to this 
itch of being spoken of, to this fury of distinguishing our 
selves which seldom or never gives us a moment s respite, 
that we owe both the best and the worst things among us, 
our virtues and our vices, our sciences and our errors, our 
conquerors and our philosophers; that is to say, a great 
many bad things to a very few good ones. I could prove, in 
short, that if we behold a handful of rich and powerful men 
seated on the pinnacle of fortune and greatness, while the 
crowd grovel in obscurity and want, it is merely because the 
first prize what they enjoy but in the same degree that 
others want it, and that, without changing their condition, 
they would cease to be happy the minute the people ceased 
to be miserable. 

But these details would alone furnish sufficient matter for 
a more considerable work, in which might be weighed the 
advantages and disadvantages of every species of govern 
ment, relatively to the rights of man in a state of nature, 
and might likewise be unveiled all the different faces under 
which inequality has appeared to this day, and may here 
after appear to the end of time, according to the nature of 
these several governments, and the revolutions time must 
unavoidably occasion in them. We should then see the 
multitude oppressed by domestic tyrants in consequence of 
those very precautions taken by them to guard against 
foreign masters. We should see oppression increase con 
tinually without its being ever possible* for the oppressed 
to know where it would stop, nor what lawful means they 
had left to check its progress. We should see the rights of 
citizens, and the liberties of nations extinguished by slow 
degrees, and the groans, and protestations and appeals of the 



230 ROUSSEAU 

weak treated as seditious murmurings. We should see policy 
confine to a mercenary portion of the people the honour of 
defending the common cause. We should see imposts made 
necessary by such measures, the disheartened husbandman 
desert his field even in time of peace, and quit the plough 
to take up the sword. We should see fatal and whimsical 
rules laid down concerning the point of honour. We should 
see the champions of their country sooner or later become 
her enemies, and perpetually holding their poniards to the 
breasts of their fellow citizens. Nay, the time would come 
when they might be heard to say to the oppressor of their 
country : 

Pectore si frairis gladium juguloquc parentis 
Condere me jubeas* gravidaque in viscera partu 
Conjugis, in vitd peragam tamen omnia dextrA. 

From the vast inequality of conditions and fortunes, from 
the great variety of passions and of talents, of useless arts, 
of pernicious arts, of frivolous sciences, would issue clouds 
of prejudices equally contrary to reason, to happiness, to 
virtue. We should see the chiefs foment everything that 
tends to weaken men formed into societies by dividing them ; 
everything that, while it gives society an air of apparent 
harmony, sows in it the seeds of real division; everything 
that can inspire the different orders with mutual distrust 
and hatred by an opposition of their rights and interest, and 
of course strengthen that power which contains them all. 

Tis from the bosom of this disorder and these revolutions, 
that despotism gradually rearing up her hideous crest, ^and 
devouring in every part of the state all that still remained 
sound and untainted, would at last issue to trample upon the 
laws and the people, and establish herself upon the^ ruins 
of the republic. The times immediately preceding this last 
alteration would be times of calamity and trouble: but at 
last everything would be swallowed up by the monster; and 
the people would no longer have chiefs or laws, but only 
tyrants. At this fatal period all regard to virtue and man 
ners would likewise disappear ; for despotism, cui ex honesto 
nulla est spes, tolerates no other master, wherever it reigns ; 
the moment it speaks, probity and duty lose all their in- 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 231 

fluence, and the blindest obedience is the only virtue the 
miserable slaves have left them to practise. 

This is the last term of inequality, the extreme point which 
closes the circle and meets that from which we set out. 
Tis here that all private men return to their primitive 
equality, because they are no longer of any account; and 
that, the subjects having no longer any law but that of 
their master, nor the master any other law but his passions, 
all notions of good and principles of justice again dis 
appear. Tis here that everything returns to the sole law 
of the strongest, and of course to a new state of nature 
different from that with which we began, in as much as the 
first was the state of nature in its purity, and the last the 
consequence of excessive corruption. There is, in other 
respects, so little difference between these two states, and 
the contract of government is so much dissolved by des 
potism, that the despot is no longer master than he con 
tinues the strongest, and that, as soon as his slaves can 
expel him, they may do it without his having the least right 
to complain of their using him ill. The insurrection, which 
ends in the death or despotism of a sultan, is as juridical 
an act as any by which the day before he disposed of the 
lives and fortunes of his subjects. Force alone upheld him, 
force alone overturns him. Thus all things take place and 
succeed in their natural order; and whatever may be the 
upshot of these hasty and frequent revolutions, no one man 
has reason to complain of another s injustice, but only of his 
own indiscretion or bad fortune. 

By thus discovering and following the lost and for 
gotten tracks, by which man from the natural must have 
arrived at the civil state; by restoring, with the intermediate 
positions which I have been just indicating, those which 
want of leisure obliges me to suppress, or which my imag 
ination has not suggested, every attentive reader must un 
avoidably be struck at the immense space which separates 
these two states. Tis in this slow succession of things 
he may meet with the solution of an infinite number of 
problems in morality and politics, which philosophers are 
puzzled to solve. He will perceive that, the mankind of one 
age not being the mankind of another, the reason why 



232 ROUSSEAU 

Diogenes could not find a man was, that he sought among 
his cotemporaries the man of an earlier period: Cato, he will 
then see, fell with Rome and with liberty, because he did 
not suit the age in which he lived; and the greatest of men 
served only to astonish that world, which would have cheer 
fully obeyed him, had he come into it five hundred years 
earlier. In a word, he will find himself in a condition to 
understand how the soul and the passions of men by insen 
sible alterations change as it were their nature; how it 
comes to pass, that at the long run our wants and our 
pleasures change objects; that, original man vanishing by 
degrees, society no longer offers to our inspection but an 
assemblage of artificial men and factitious passions, which 
are the work of all these new relations, and have no foun 
dation in nature. Reflection teaches us nothing on that 
head, but what experience perfectly confirms. Savage 
man and civilised man differ so much at bottom in point of 
inclinations and passions, that what constitutes the supreme 
happiness of the one would reduce the other to despair. 
The first si^hs for nothing but repose and liberty; he 
desires only to live, and to be exempt from labour; nay, 
the ataraxy of the most confirmed Stoic falls short of his 
consummate indifference for every other object. On the 
contrary, the citizen always in motion, is perpetually sweat 
ing and toiling, and racking his brains to find out occupa 
tions still more laborious: He continues a drudge to his last 
minute; nay, he courts death to be able to live, or re 
nounces life to acquire immortality. He cringes to men 
in power whom he hates, and to rich men whom he despises ; 
he ftirlvs at nothing to have the honour of serving them; 
he is not ashamed to value himself on his own weakness 
and the protection they afford him ; and proud of his chains, 
he speaks with disdain of those who have not the honour 
of being the partner of his bondage. What a spectacle must 
the painful and envied labours of an European minister 
of state form in the eyes of a Caribbean ! How many cruel 
deaths would not this indolent savage prefer to such a 
horrid life, which very often is not even sweetened by the 
pleasure of doing good? But to see the drift of so many 
cares, his mind should first have affixed some meaning to 



DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 233 

these words power and reputation; he should be apprised 
that there are men who consider as something the looks of 
the rest of mankind, who know how to be happy and satis 
fied with themselves on the testimony of others sooner than 
upon their own. In fact, the real source of all those dif 
ferences, is that the savage lives within himself, whereas 
the citizen, constantly beside himself, knows only how 
to live in the opinion of others; insomuch that- it is, if 
I may say so, merely from their judgment that he derives 
the consciousness of his own existence. It is foreign to my 
subject to show how this disposition engenders so much 
indifference for good and evil, notwithstanding so many and 
such fine discourses of morality; how everything, being 
reduced to appearances, becomes mere art and mummery; 
honour, friendship, virtue, and often vice itself, which we 
at last learn the secret to boast of; how, in short, ever 
inquiring of others what we are, and never daring to ques 
tion ourselves on so delicate a point, in the midst of so 
much philosophy, humanity, and politeness, and so many 
sublime maxims, we have nothing to show for ourselves but 
a deceitful and frivolous exterior, honour without virtue, 
reason without wisdom, and pleasure without happiness. 
It is sufficient that I have proved that this is not the original 
condition of man, and that it is merely the spirit of society, 
and the inequality which society engenders, tint thus change 
and transform all our natural inclinations. 

I have endeavoured to exhibit the origin and progress of 
inequality, the institution and abuse of political societies, as 
far as these things are capable of being deduced from the 
nature of man by the mere light of reason, and independ 
ently of those sacred maxims which give to the sovereign 
authority the sanction of divine right. It follows from this 
picture, that as there is scarce any inequality among men 
in a state of nature, all that which we now behold owes 
its force and its growth to the development of our faculties 
and the improvement of our understanding, and at last 
becomes permanent and lawful by the establishment of 
property and of laws. It likewise follows that moral in 
equality, authorised by any right that is merely positive, 
clashes with natural right, as often as it does not combine 



234 DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY 

in the same proportion with physical inequality: a distinc 
tion which sufficiently determines, what we are able to 
think in that respect of that kind of inequality which obtains 
in all civilised nations, since it is evidently against the law 
of nature that infancy should command old age, folly con 
duct wisdom, and a handful of men should be ready to choke 
with superfluities, while the famished multitude want the 
commonest necessaries of life. 



PROFESSION OF FAITH OF 
A SAVOYARD VICAR 

BY 
J. J. ROUSSEAU 



INTRODUCTION 

ABOUT thirty years ago a young man, who had forsaken his 
own country and rambled into Italy, found himself reduced to 
a condition of great poverty and distress. He had been bred a 
Calvinist; but in consequence of his misconduct and of being 
unhappily a fugitive in a foreign country, without money or 
friends, he was induced to change his religion for the sake of 
subsistence. To this end he procured admittance into a hospice 
for catechumens, that is to say, a house established for the re 
ception of proselytes. The instructions he here received con 
cerning some controversial points excited doubts he had not 
before entertained, and first caused him to realize the evil of 
the step he had taken. He was taught strange dogmas, and 
was eye-witness to stranger manners ; and to these he saw him 
self a destined victim. He now sought to make his escape, but 
was prevented and more closely confined. If he complained, he 
was punished for complaining; and, lying at the mercy of his 
tyrannical oppressors, found himself treated as criminal because 
he could not without reluctance submit to be so. 

Let those who are sensible how much the first acts of violence 
and injustice irritate young and inexperienced minds, judge of 
the situation of this unfortunate youth. Swollen with indigna 
tion, the tears of rage burst from his eyes. He implored the 
assistance of heaven and earth in vain ; he appealed to the whole 
world, but no one attended to his plea. His complaints could 
reach the ears only of a number of servile domestics, slaves to 
the wretch by whom he was thus treated, or accomplices in the 
same crime, who ridiculed his non-conformity and endeavored 
to secure his imitation. He would doubtless have been entirely 
ruined had it not been for the good offices of an honest ecclesi 
astic, who came to the hospital on some business, and with whom 
he found an opportunity for a private conference. The good 
priest was himself poor, and stood in need of every one s assist- 

237 



238 INTRODUCTION 

ance ; the oppressed proselyte, however, stood yet in greater need 
of him. The former did not hesitate, therefore, to favor his 
escape, even at the risk of making a powerful enemy. 

Having escaped from vice only to return to indigence, this 
young adventurer struggled against his destiny without success. 
For a moment, indeed, he thought himself above it, and at the 
first prospect of good fortune, his former distresses and his 
protector were forgotten together. He was soon punished, how 
ever, for his ingratitude, as his groundless hopes soon vanished. 
His youth stood in vain on his side ; his romantic notions proving 
destructive to all his designs. Having neither capacity nor 
address to surmount the difficulties that fell in his way, and 
being a stranger to the virtues of moderation and the arts of 
knavery, he attempted so many things that he could bring none 
to perfection. Hence, having fallen into his former distress, 
and being not only in want of clothes and lodging, but even 
in danger of perishing with hunger, he recollected his former 
benefactor. 

To him he returned, and was well received. The sight of the 
unhappy youth brought to the poor vicar s mind the remem 
brance of a good action; a remembrance always grateful to 
an honest mind. This good priest was naturally humane and 
compassionate. His own misfortunes had taught him to feel for 
those of others, nor had prosperity hardened his heart. In a 
word, the maxims of true wisdom and conscious virtue had 
confirmed the kindness of his natural disposition. He cordially 
embraced the young wanderer, provided for him a lodging, and 
shared with him the slender means of his own subsistence. Nor 
was this all : he went still farther, freely giving him both in 
struction and consolation, and also endeavoring to teach him 
the difficult art of supporting adversity with patience. Could 
you believe, ye sons of prejudice ! that a priest, and a priest in 
Italy too, could be capable of this? 

This honest ecclesiastic was a poor Savoyard, who having in 
his younger days incurred the displeasure of his bishop, was 
obliged to pass the mountains in order to seek that provision 
which was denied him in his own country. He was neither 
deficient in literature nor understanding; his talents, therefore, 
joined with an engaging appearance, soon procured him a patron, 
who recommended him as tutor to a young man of quality. He 



INTRODUCTION 239 

preferred poverty, however, to dependence; and, being a stranger 
to the manners and behavior of the great, he remained but a 
short time in that situation. In quitting this service, however, 
he fortunately did not lose the esteem of his friend; and, as he 
behaved with great prudence and was universally beloved, he 
flattered himself that he should in time regain the good opinion 
of his bishop also, and be rewarded with some little benefice in 
the mountains, where he hoped to spend in tranquillity and 
peace the remainder of his days. This was the height of his 
ambition. 

Interested by a natural affinity in favor of the young fugi 
tive, he examined very carefully into his character and dispo 
sition. In this examination, he saw that his misfortunes had ^ 
already debased his heart; that the shame and contempt to 
which he had been exposed had depressed his ambition, and that 
his disappointed pride, converted into indignation, had deduced, 
from the injustice and cruelty of mankind, the depravity of 
human nature and the emptiness of virtue. He had observed 
religion made use of as a mask to self-interest, and its worship 
as a cloak to hypocrisy. He had seen the terms heaven and hell 
prostituted in the subtility of vain disputes; the joys of the one 
and the pains of the other being annexed to a mere repetition 
of words. He had observed the sublime and primitive idea of 
the Divinity disfigured by the fantastical imaginations of men; 
and, finding that in order to believe in God it was necessary to 
give up that understanding he hath bestowed on us, he held " 
in the same disdain as well the sacred object of our idle reveries 
as those idle reveries themselves. Without knowing anything of 
natural causes, or giving himself any trouble to investigate them, 
he remained in a condition of the most stupid ignorance, mixed " 
with profound contempt for those who pretended to greater 
knowledge than his own. 

A neglect of all religious duties leads to a neglect of all moral 
obligations. The heart of this young vagabond had already 
made a great progress from one toward the other. Not that he 
was constitutionally vicious; but misfortune and incredulity, ^^^ 
having stifled by degrees the propensities of his natural dispo 
sition, were hurrying him on to ruin, adding to the manners 
of a beggar the principles of an atheist. 

His ruin, however, though almost inevitable, was not abso 






240 INTRODUCTION 

Jutely completed. His education not having been neglected, he 
was not without knowledge. He had not yet exceeded that 
happy term of life, wherein the youthful blood serves to stimu 
late the mind without inflaming the passions, which were as yet 
unrelaxed and unexcited. A natural modesty and timidity of 
disposition had hitherto supplied the place of restraint, and 
prolonged the term of youthful innocence. The odious example 
of brutal depravity, and of vices without temptation, so far 
from animating his imagination, had mortified it. Disgust had 
long supplied the place of virtue in the preservation of his 
innocence, and to corrupt this required more powerful seductions. 

The good priest saw the danger and the remedy. The diffi 
culties that appeared in the application did not deter him from 
the attempt. He took a pleasure in the design, and resolved to 
complete it by restoring to virtue the victim he had snatched 
from infamy. 

To this end he set out resolutely in the execution of his project. 
The merit of the motive increased his hopes, and inspired means 
worthy of his zeal. Whatever might be the success, he was sure 
that he should not throw away his labor: we are always sure 
so far to succeed in well doing. 

He began with striving to gain the confidence of the proselyte 
by conferring on him his favors disinterestedly, by never im 
portuning him with exhortations, and by descending always to 
a level with his ideas and manner of thinking. It must have been 
an affecting sight to see a grave divine become the comrade of 
a young libertine to see virtue affect the air of licentiousness 
in order to triumph the more certainly over it. Whenever the 
heedless youth made him the confidant of his follies, and un 
bosomed himself freely to his benefactor, the good priest lis 
tened attentively to his stones; and, without approving the evil, 
interested himself in the consequences. No ill-timed censure ever 
indiscreetly checked the pupil s communicative temper. The 
pleasure with which he thought himself heard increased that 
which he took in telling all his secrets. Thus he was induced 
to make a free and general confession without thinking he was 
confessing anything. 

Having thus made himself master of the youth s sentiments 
and character, the priest was enabled to see clearly that, without 
being ignorant for his years, he had forgotten almost everything 



INTRODUCTION 241 

of importance for him to know, and that the state of meanness 
into which he had fallen had almost stifled in him the sense of ^ 
good and evil. There is a degree of low stupidity which deprives 
the soul as it were of life; the voice of conscience is also but 
little heard by those who think of nothing but the means of 
subsistence. To rescue this unfortunate youth from the moral 
death that so nearly threatened him, he began, therefore, by 
awakening his self-love jand exciting in him a due regard for 
himself. He represented to his imagination a more happy suc 
cess, from the future employment of his talents ; he inspired him 
with a generous ardor by a recital of the commendable actions 
of others, and by raising his admiration of those who performed 
them. In order to detach him insensibly from an idle and vaga 
bond life, he employed him in copying books; and under pretence 
of having occasion for such extracts, cherished in him the noble 
sentiment of gratitude for his benefactor. By this method he 
also instructed him indirectly by the books he employed him to 
copy ; and induced him to entertain so good an opinion of him 
self as to think he was not absolutely good for nothing, and to 
hold himself not quite so despicable in his own esteem as he had 
formerly done. 

A trifling circumstance may serve to show the art which this 
benevolent instructor made use of to insensibly elevate the heart 
of his disciple, without appearing to think of giving him instruc 
tion. This good ecclesiastic was so well known and esteemed 
for his probity and discernment, that many persons chose rather 
to entrust him with the distribution of their alms than the 
richer clergy of the cities. Now it happened that receiving one 
day a sum of money in charge for the poor, the young man had 
the meanness to desire some of it, under that title, for himself. 
" No," replied his kind benefactor, "you and I are brethren; you 
belong to me, and I should not apply the charity entrusted with 
me to my own use." He then gave him the desired sum from 
his private funds. Lessons of this kind are hardly ever thrown 
away on young people, whose hearts are not entirely corrupted. 
But I will continue to speak no longer in the third person, 
which is indeed a superfluous caution ; as you, my dear country 
men, are very sensible that the unhappy fugitive I have been 
speaking of is myself. I believe that I am now so far removed 
from the irregularities of my youth as to dare to avow them, and 



242 INTRODUCTION 

think that the hand which extricated me from them is too w^ll 
deserving of my gratitude for me not to do it honour even at 
the expense of a little shame. 

The most striking circumstance of all was to observe in the 
retired life of my worthy master virtue without hypocrisy and 
humanity without weakness. His conversation was always honest 
and simple, and his conduct ever conformable to his discourse. 
I never found him troubling himself whether the persons he 
assisted went constantly to vesperswhether they went fre 
quently to confession or fasted on certain days of the week. 
Nor did I ever know him to impose on them any of those con 
ditions without which a man might perish from want, and have 
no hope of relief from the devout. 

Encouraged by these observations, so far was I from affecting 
in his presence the forward zeal of a new proselyte, that I took 
BO pains to conceal my thoughts, nor did I ever remark his being 
scandalized at this freedom. Hence, I have sometimes said to 
myself, he certainly overlooks my indifference for the new mode 
of worship I have embraced, in consideration of the disregard 
which he sees I have for that in which I was educated; as he 
finds my indifference is not partial to either. But what could I 
think when I heard him sometimes approve dogmas contrary to 
those of the Romish church, and appear to hold its ceremonies 
in little esteem? I should have been apt to consider him a 
protestant in disguise, had I seen him less observant of those 
very ceremonies which he seemed to think of so little account; 
but knowing that he acquitted himself as punctually of his duties 
as a priest in private as in public, I knew not how to judge of 
these seeming contradictions. If we except the failing which 
first brought him into disgrace with his superior, and of which 
he was not altogether corrected, his life was exemplary, his 
manners irreproachable, and his conversation prudent and sen 
sible. As I lived with him in the greatest intimacy, I learned 
every day to respect him more and more; and as he had entirely 
won my heart by so many acts of kindness, I waited with an 
impatient curiosity to know the principles on which a life and 
conduct so singular and uniform could be founded. 

It was some time, however, before this curiosity was satisfied, 

he endeavored to cultivate those seeds of reason and goodness 
he had endeavored to instill, before he would disclose 



INTRODUCTION 243 

himself to his disciple. The greatest difficulty he met with was to 
eradicate from my heart a proud misanthropy, a certain ran 
corous hatred which I bore to the wealthy and fortunate, as if 
they were made so at my expense, and had usurped apparent 
happiness from what should have been my own. The idle 
vanity of youth, which is opposed to all constraint and humilia 
tion, encouraged but too much my propensity to indulge this 
splenetic humor; whilst that self-love, which my mentor strove 
so earnestly to cherish, by increasing my pride, rendered man 
kind, in my opinion, still more detestable, and only added to rny 
hatred of them the most egregious contempt. 

Without directly attacking this pride, he yet strove to pre 
vent it from degenerating into barbarity, and without diminishing 
my self-esteem, made me less disdainful of my neighbors. In 
withdrawing the gaudy veil of external appearances, and pre 
senting to my view the real evils it concealed, he taught me to 
lament the failings of my fellow creatures, to sympathize with 
their miseries, and to pity instead of envying them. Moved to 
compassion for human frailties from a deep sense of his own, he 
saw mankind everywhere the victims of either their own vices 
or of the vices of others, he saw the poor groan beneath the 
yoke of the rich, and the rich beneath the tyranny of their own 
idle habits and prejudices. 

" Believe me," said he, " our mistaken notions of things are 
so far from hiding our misfortunes from our view, that they 
augment those evils by rendering trifles of importance, and mak 
ing us sensible of a thousand wants which we should never have 
known but for our prejudices. Peace of mind consists in a 
contempt for everything that may disturb it. The man who gives 
himself the greatest concern about life is he who enjoys it least; 
an-:l he who aspires the most earnestly after happiness is always 
the one who is the most miserable." 

"Alas!" cried I, with all the bitterness of discontent, "what 
a deplorable picture do you present of human life! If we may 
indulge ourselves in nothing, to what purpose were we born? If 
we must despise even happiness itself, who is there that can 
know what it is to be happy?" 

" I know," replied the good priest, in a tone and manner that 
struck me. 

"You!" said I, "so little favored by fortune! so poor! ex- 



244 INTRODUCTION 

iled! persecuted! can you be happy? And if you are, what have 
you done to purchase happiness?" 

"My dear child," he replied, embracing me, "I will willingly 
tell you. As you have freely confessed to me, I will do the same 
to you. I will disclose to you all the sentiments of my heart. 
You shall see me, if not such as I really am, at least such as 
I believe myself to be : and when you have heard my whole Pro 
fession of Faithr when you know fully the situation of my 
heart you will know why I think myself happy; and, if you 
agree with me, what course you should pursue in order to become 
so likewise. 

" But this profession is not to be made in a moment. It will 
require some time to disclose to you my thoughts on the situa 
tion of mankind and on the real value of human life. We will 
therefore take a suitable opportunity for a few hours uninter 
rupted conversation on this subject." 

As I expressed an earnest desire for such an opportunity, an 
appointment was made for the next morning. We rose at the 
break of day and prepared for the journey. Leaving the town, 
he led me to the top of a hill, at the foot of which ran the river 
Po, watering in its course the fertile vales. That immense chain 
of mountains, called the Alps, terminated the distant view. The 
rising sun cast its welcome rays over the gilded plains, and, by 
projecting the long shadows of the trees, the houses, and adjacent 
hills, formed the most beautiful scene ever mortal eye beheld. 
One might have been almost tempted to think that nature had at 
this moment displayed all its grandeur and beauty as a subject 
for our conversation. Here it was that, after contemplating for 
a short time the surrounding objects in silence, my teacher and 
benefactor confided to me with impressive earnestness the prin 
ciples and faith which governed his life and conduct. 



PROFESSION OF FAITH OF 
A SAVOYARD VICAR 



EXPECT from me neither learned declamations nor 
profound arguments. I am no great philosopher, 
and give myself but little trouble in regard to becom 
ing such. Still I perceive sometimes the glimmering of good 
sense, and have always a regard for the truth. I will not 
enter into any disputation, or endeavor to refute you; but 
only lay down my own sentiments in simplicity of heart. 
Consult your own during this recital : this is all I require of 
you. If I am mistaken, it is undesignedly, which is sufficient 
to absolve me of all criminal error ; and if I am right, reason, 
which is common to us both, shall decide. We are equally" 
interested in listening to it, and why should not our views 
agree? 

I was born a poor peasant, destined by my situation to the 
business of husbandry. It was thought, however, much more 
advisable for me to learn to get my bread by the profession 
of a priest, and means were found to give me a proper edu 
cation. In this, most certainly, neither my parents nor I 
consulted what was really good, true, or useful for me to 
know; but only that I should learn what was necessary to 
my ordination. I learned, therefore, what was required of 
me to learn, I said what was required of me to say and, 
accordingly, was made a priest. It was not long, however, 
before I perceived too plainly that, in laying myself under 
an obligation to be no longer a man, I had engaged for more 
than I could possibly perform. 

Some will tell us that conscience is founded merely on 
our prejudices, but I know from my own experience that 
its dictates constantly follow the order of nature, in contra 
diction to all human laws and institutions. We are in vain 

245 



246 A SAVOYARD VICAR 

forbidden to do this thing or the other we shall feel but 
little remorse for doing any thing to which a well-regulated 
natural instinct excites us, how strongly soever prohibited 
by reason. Nature, my dear youth, hath hitherto in this 
respect been silent in you. May you continue long in that 
happy state wherein her voice is the voice of innocence! 
Remember that you offend her more by anticipating her 
instructions than by refusing to hear them. In order to 
know when to listen to her without a crime, you should be 
gin by learning to check her insinuations. 

I had always a due respect for marriage as the first and 
most sacred institution of nature. Having given up my 
right to enter into such an engagement, I resolved, there 
fore, not to profane it: for, notwithstanding my manner of 
education, as I had always led a simple and uniform life, I 
had preserved all that clearness of understanding in which 
my first ideas were cultivated. The maxims of the world 
had not obscured my primitive notions, and my poverty kept 
me at a sufficient distance from those temptations that teach 
us the sophistry of vice. 

The virtuous resolution I had formed, was, however, the 
very cause of my ruin, as my determination not to violate 
the rights of others, left my faults exposed to detection. 
To expiate the offence, I was suspended and banished; 
falling a sacrifice to my scruples rather than to my incon 
tinence. From the reproaches made me on my disgrace, I 
found that the way to escape punishment for an offence is 
often by committing a greater. 

A few instances of this kind go far with persons capable 
of reflection. Finding by sorrowful experience that the 
ideas I had formed of justice, honesty, and other moral 
obligations were contradicted in practice, I began to give 
up most of the opinions I had received, until at length the 
few which I retained being no longer sufficient to support 
themselves, I called in question the evidence on which they 
were established. Thus, knowing hardly what to think, I 
found myself at last reduced to your own situation of mind, 
with this difference only, that my unbelief being the later 
fruit of a maturer age, it was a work of greater difficulty 
to remove it 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 247 

I was in that state of doubt and uncertainty in which 
Descartes requires the mind to be involved, in order to :*, , 
enable it to investigate truth. This disposition of mind, 
however, is too disquieting to long continue, its duration 
being owing only to indolence or vice. My heart was not 
so corrupt as to sek fresh indulgence; and nothing pre 
serves so well the habit of reflection as to be more content 
with ourselves than with our fortune. 

I reflected, therefore, on the unhappy lot of mortals 
floating always on the ocean of human opinions, without 
compass or rudder left to the mercy of their tempestuous 
passions, with no other guide than an inexperienced pilot, 
ignorant of his course, as well as from whence he came, 
and whither he is going. I often said to myself: I love the 
truth I seek, yet cannot find it. Let any one show it to me 
and I will readily embrace it. Why doth it hide its charms 
from a heart formed to adore them? 

I have frequently experienced at times much greater evils ; 
and yet no part of my life was ever so constantly disagree 
able to me as that interval of scruples and anxiety. Running 
perpetually from one doubt and uncertainty to another, all 
that I could deduce from my long and painful meditations 
was incertitude, obscurity, and contradiction; as well with 
regard to my existence as to my duty. 

I cannot comprehend how any man can be sincerely a *- - 
skeptic on principle. Such philosophers either do not exist, 
or they are certainly the most miserable of men. To be in 
doubt, about things which it is important for us to know, 
is a situation too perplexing for the human mind ; it cannot 
long support such incertitude; but will, in spite of itself, 
determine one way or the other, rather deceiving itself than 
being content to believe nothing of the matter. 

What added further to my perplexity was, that as the 
authority of the church in which I was educated was de 
cisive, and tolerated not the slightest doubt, in rejecting one 
point, I thereby rejected in a manner all the others. The ^JL ? 
impossibility of admitting so many absurd decisions, threw 
doubt over those more reasonable. In being told I must 
believe all, I was prevented from believing anything, and J ^ 
knew not what course to pursue. 



248 ROUSSEAU 

In this situation I consulted the philosophers. I turned 
over their books, and examined their several opinions. I 
found them vain, dogmatical and dictatorial even in their 
pretended skepticism. Ignorant of nothing, yet proving 
nothing; but ridiculing one another instead; and in this last 
particular only, in which they were all a-greed, they seemed 
to be in the right. Affecting to triumph whenever they at 
tacked their opponents, they lacked everything to make 
them capable of a vigorous defence. If you examine their 
reasons, you will find them calculated only to refute: If you 
number voices, every one is reduced to his own suffrage. 
They agree in nothing but in disputing, and to attend to 
these was certainly not the way to remove my uncertainty. 
Mw I conceived that the weakness of the human understanding 
was the first cause of the prodigious variety I found in their 
sentiments, and that pride was the second. We have no 
standard with which to measure this immense machine; we 
cannot calculate its various relations; we neither know the 
first cause nor the final effects; we are ignorant even of 
ourselves; we neither know our own nature nor principle 
of action; nay, we hardly know whether man be a simple 
or compound being. Impenetrable mysteries surround us on 
every side; they extend beyond the region of sense; we 
imagine ourselves possessed of understanding to penetrate 

"them, and we have only imagination. Every one strikes 
out a way of his own across this imaginary world; but no 
one knows whether it will lead him to the point he aims at. 
We are yet desirous to penetrate, to know, everything. The 
only thing we know not is to contentedly remain ignorant of 

what it is impossible for us to know. We had much rather 
determine at random, and believe the thing which is not, 
than to confess that none of us is capable of seeing the thing 
that is. Being ourselves but a small part of that great whole, 
whose limits surpass our most extensive views, and con 
cerning which its creator leaves us to make our idle con 
jectures, we are vain enough to decide what that whole is 
in itself, and what we are in relation to it. 

But were the philosophers in a situation to discover the 
truth, which of them would be interested in so doing? 
Each knows very well that his system is no better founded 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 249 

than the systems of others; he defends it, nevertheless, be 
cause it is his own. There is not one of them, who, really 
knowing truth from falsehood, would not prefer the latter, 
if of his own invention, to the former, discovered by any 
one else. Where is the philosopher who would not readily 
deceive mankind, to increase his own reputation? Where 
is he who secretly proposes any other object than that of 
distinguishing himself from the rest of mankind? Provided 
he raises himself above the vulgar, and carries away the 
prize of fame from his competitors, what doth he require 
more? The most essential point is to think differently from 
the rest of the world. Among believers he is an atheist, and 
among atheists he affects to be a believer. 

The first fruit I gathered from these meditations was to 
learn to confine my enquiries to those things in which I was 
immediately interested; to remain contented in a profound 
ignorance of the rest; and not to trouble myself so far as 
even to doubt about what it did not concern me to know. 

I could further see that instead of clearing up any un 
necessary doubts, the philosophers only contributed to mul 
tiply those which most tormented me, and that they resolved 
absolutely none. I therefore applied to another guide, and 
said to myself, let me consult my innate instructor, who will 
deceive me less than I may be deceived by others ; or at least 
the errors I fall into will be my own, and I shall grow less 
depraved in the pursuit of my own illusions, than in giving 
myself up to the deceptions of others. 

Taking a retrospect, then, of the several opinions which 
had successively prevailed with me from my infancy, I 
found that, although none of them were so evident as to 
produce immediate conviction, they had nevertheless dif 
ferent degrees of probability, and that my innate sense of 
truth and falsehood leaned more or less to each. On this 
first observation, proceeding to compare impartially and 
without prejudice these different opinions with each other, 
I found that the first and most common was also the most 
simple and most rational; and that it wanted nothing more 
to secure universal suffrage, than the circumstance of having 
been last proposed. Let us suppose that all our philosophers, 
ancient and modern, had exhausted all their whimsical 



250 ROUSSEAU 

systems of power, chance, fate, necessity, atoms, an animated 
world, sensitive matter, materialism, and of every other 
kind ; and after them let us imagine the celebrated Dr. Clarke 
enlightening the world by displaying the being of beings 
the supreme and sovereign disposer of all things. With 
what universal admiration, with what unanimous applause 
would not the world receive this new system, so great, so 
consolatory, so sublime, so proper to elevate the soul, to 
lay the foundations of virtue, and at the same time so 
striking, so enlightened, so simple, and, as it appears to 
me, pregnant with less incomprehensibilities and absurdities 
than all other systems whatever! I reflected that un 
answerable objections might be made to all, because the 
human understanding is incapable of resolving them, no 
proof therefore could be brought exclusively of any: but 
what difference is there in proofs! Ought not that system 
then, which explains everything, to be preferred, when 
attended with no greater difficulties than the rest? 

The love of truth then comprises all my philosophy; and 
my method of research being the simple and easy rule of 
common sense, which dispenses with the vain subtilty of 
argumentation, I reexamined by this principle all the knowl 
edge of which I was possessed, resolved to admit as evident 
everything to which I could not in the sincerity of my heart 
refuse to assent, to admit also as true all that seemed to 
have a necessary connection with it, and to leave everything 
else as uncertain, without either rejecting or admitting, 
being determined not to trouble myself about clearing up 
any point which did not tend to utility in practice. 

But, after all, who am I? What right have I to judge 
of these things? And what is it that determines my con 
clusions? If, subject to the impressions I receive, these 
are formed in direct consequence of those impressions, I 
trouble myself to no purpose in these investigations. It is 
necessary, therefore, to examine myself, to know what in 
struments are made use of in such researches, and how far 
I may confide in their use. 

In the first place, I know that I exist, and have senses 
whereby I am affected. This is a truth so striking that I 
am compelled to acquiesce in it. But have I properly a 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 251 

distinct sense of my existence, or do I only know it from my 
various sensations? This is my first doubt; which, at 
present, it is impossible for me to resolve: for, being con- 
tinually affected by sensations, either directly from the 
objects or from the memory, how can I tell whether my 
self-consciousness be, or be not, something foreign to those 
sensations, and independent of them. 

My sensations are all internal, as they make me sensible 
of my own existence; but the cause of them is external and 
independent, as they affect me without my consent, and do 
not depend on my will for their production or annihilation. 
I conceive very clearly, therefore, that the sensation which 
is internal, and its cause or object which is external, are not 
one and the same thing. 

Thus I know that I not only exist, but that other beings 
exist as well as myself; to wit, the objects of my sensations; 
and though these objects should be nothing but ideas, it is 
very certain that these ideas are no part of myself. 

Now, everything that I perceive out of myself, and > 
which acts upon my senses, I call matter; and those por 
tions of matter which I conceive are united in individ 
ual beings, I call bodies. Thus all the disputes between 
Idealists and Materialists signify nothing to me; their dis 
tinctions between the appearance and reality of bodies being 
chimerical. 

Hence I have acquired as certain knowledge of the ex 
istence of the universe as of my own. I next reflect on the 
objects of my sensations; and, finding in myself the faculty 
of comparing them with each other, I perceive myself en 
dowed with an active power with which I was before un 
acquainted. 

To perceive is only to feel or be sensible of things; to 
compare them is to judge of their existence. To judge of 
things and to be sensible of them are very different. Things ,^4 
present themselves to our sensations as single and detached r 
from each other, such as they barely exist in nature: but 
in our intellectual comparison of them they are removed, 
transported as it were, from place to place, disposed on and 
beside each other, to enable us to pronounce concerning 
their difference and similitude. The characteristic faculty 



252 ROUSSEAU 

of an intelligent, active being is, in my opinion, that of 
giving a sense to the word exist. In beings merely sensitive, 
I have searched in vain to discover the like force of intel 
lect ; nor can I conceive it to be in their nature. Such pas 
sive beings perceive every object singly or by itself; or if 
two objects present themselves, they are perceived as united 
into one. Such beings having no power to place one in com 
petition with, beside, or upon the other, they cannot compare 
them, or judge of their separate existence. 

To see two objects at once, is not to see their relations 
to each other, nor to judge of their difference; as to see 
many objects, though distinct from one another, is not to 
reckon their number. I may possibly have in my mind the 
ideas of a large stick and a small one, without comparing 
those ideas together, or judging that one is less than the 
other; as I may look at my hand without counting my 
fingers. 1 The comparative ideas of greater and less, as well 
as numerical ideas of one, two, etc., are certainly not sen 
sations, although the understanding produces them only 
from our sensations. 

It has been pretended that sensitive beings distinguish 
sensations one from the other, by the actual difference there 
is between those sensations: this, however, demands an ex 
planation. When such sensations are different, a sensitive 
being is supposed to distinguish them by their difference ; 
but when they are alike, they can then only distinguish them 
because they perceive one without the other; for, otherwise, 
how can two objects exactly alike be distinguished in a 
simultaneous sensation? Such objects must necessarily be 
blended together and taken for one and the same; particu 
larly according to that system of philosophy in which it is 
pretended that the sensations, representative of extension, 
are not extended. 

When two comparative sensations are perceived, they 
make both a joint and separate impression; but their rela 
tion to each other is not necessarily perceived in consequence 
of either. If the judgment we form of this relation were 
indeed a mere sensation, excited by the objects, we should 

1 M. de la Condamine tells of a people who knew how to reckon only as 
far as three. Yet these people must often have seen their fingers without 
ever having counted five. 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 253 

never be deceived in it, for it can never be denied that I 
truly perceive what I feel. 

How, therefore, can I be deceived in the relation between 
these two sticks, particularly, if they are not parallel? 
Why do I say, for instance, that the little one is a third part 
as long as the great one, when it is in reality only a fourth ? 
Why is not the image, which is the sensation, conformable 
to its model, which is the object? It is because I am active 
when I judge, the operation which forms the comparison is 
defective, and my understanding, which judges of relations, 
mixes its errors with the truth of those sensations which 
are representative of objects. 

Add to this the reflection, which I am certain you will 
think striking after duly weighing it, that if we were merely 
passive in the use of our senses, there would be no com 
munication between them : so that it would be impossible for 
us to know that the body we touched with our hands and the 
object we saw with our eyes were one and the same. Either 
we should not be able to perceive external objects at all, 
or they would appear to exist as five perceptible substances 
of which we should have no method of ascertaining the 
identity. 

Whatever name be given to that power of the mind which 
assembles and compares my sensations, call it attention, 
meditation, reflection, or whatever you please, certain it is 
that it exists in me, and not in the objects of those sensa 
tions. It is I alone who produce it, although it is displayed 
only in consequence of the impressions made on me by those 
objects. Without being so far master over myself as 
to perceive or not to perceive at pleasure, I am still more 
or less capable of making an examination into the objects 
perceived. 

I am not, therefore, a mere sensitive and passive, but an 
active and intelligent being; and, whatever philosophers may 
pretend, lay claim to the honor of thinking. I know only 
that truth depends on the existence of things, and not on my 
understanding which judges of them; and that the less such 
judgment depends on me, the nearer I am certain of ap 
proaching the truth. Hence my rule of confiding more on 
sentiment than reason is confirmed by reason itself. 



254 ROUSSEAU 

Being thus far assured of my own nature and capacity, 
I begin to consider the objects about me; regarding myself, 
with a kind of shuddering, as a creature thrown on the 
wide world of the universe, and as it were lost in an 
infinite variety of other beings, without knowing anything 
of what they are, either among themselves or with regard 
to me. 

Everything that is perceptible to my senses is matter, and 
I deduce all the essential properties of matter from those 
sensible qualities, which cause it to be perceptible, and which 
are inseparable from it. I see it sometimes in motion and 
at other times at rest. This rest may be said to be only 
relative; but as we perceive degrees in motion, we can very 
clearly conceive one of the two extremes which is rest; and 
this we conceive so distinctly, that we are even induced to 
take that for absolute rest which is only relative. Now 
motion cannot be essential to matter, if matter can be con 
ceived at rest. Hence I infer that neither motion nor rest 
are essential to it; but motion being an action, is clearly 
the effect of cause, of which rest is only the absence. When 
nothing acts on matter, it does not move; it is equally in 
different to motion and rest; its natural state, therefore, is 
to be at rest. 

Again, I perceive in bodies two kinds of motion; that is 
a mechanical or communicated motion, and a spontaneous 
or voluntary one. In the first case, the moving cause is out 
of the body moved, and in the last, exists within it. I shall 
not hence conclude, however, that the motion of a watch, 
for example, is spontaneous; for if nothing should act upon 
it but the spring, that spring would not wind itself up again 
when once down. For the same reason, also, I should as 
little accede to the spontaneous motion of fluids, nor even 
to heat itself, the cause of their fluidity. 

You will ask me if the motions of animals are spon 
taneous? I will freely answer, I cannot positively tell, 
but analogy speaks in the affirmative. You may ask me 
further, how I know there is such a thing as spontaneous 
motion? I answer, because I feel it. I will to move my 
arm, and, accordingly, it moves without the intervention of 
any other immediate cause. It is in vain to attempt to reason 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 255 

me out of this sentiment ; it is more powerful than any 
rational evidence. You might as well attempt to convince 
me that I do not exist. 

If the actions of men are not spontaneous, and there be 
no such spontaneous action in what passes on earth, we 
are only the more embarrassed to conceive what is the first 
cause of all motion. For my part I am so fully persuaded 
that the natural state of matter is a state of rest, and that 
it has in itself no principle of activity, that whenever I see a 
body in motion, I instantly conclude that it is either an 
animated body or that its motion is communicated to it. My 
understanding will by no means acquiesce in the notion that 
unorganized matter can move of itself, or be productive 
of any kind of action. 

The visible universe, however, is composed of inanimate 
matter, which appears to have nothing in its composition 
of organization, or that sensation which is common to the 
parts of an animated body, as it is certain that we ourselves, 
being parts thereof, do not perceive our existence in the 
whole. The universe, also, is in motion; and its movements 
being all regular, uniform, and subjected to constant laws, 
nothing appears therein similar to that liberty which is re 
markable in the spontaneous motion of men and animals. 
The world, therefore, is not a huge self-moving animal, but 
receives its motions from some foreign cause, which we do 
not perceive: but I am so strongly persuaded within myself 
of the existence of this cause, that it is impossible for me 
to observe the apparent diurnal revolution of the sun, with 
out conceiving that some force must urge it forward ; or if 
it is the earth itself that turns, I cannot but conceive that 
some hand must turn it. 

If it be necessary to admit general laws that have no 
apparent relation to matter, from what fixed point must 
that enquiry set out? Those laws, being nothing real or 
substantial, have some prior foundation equally unknown 
and occult. Experience and observation have taught us 
the laws of motion; these laws, however, determine effects 
only without displaying their causes; and, therefore, are 
not sufficient to explain the system of the universe. Des 
cartes could form a model of the heavens and earth with 



256 ROUSSEAU 

dice ; but he could not give their motions to those dice, nor 
bring into play his centrifugal force without the assistance 
of a rotary motion. Newton discovered the law of attrac 
tion; but attraction alone would soon have reduced the 
universe into one solid mass : to this law, therefore, he found 
it necessary to add a projectile force, in order to account 
for the revolution of the heavenly bodies. Could Descartes 
tell us by what physical law ,his vortices were put and kept 
in motion? Could Newton produce the hand that first im 
pelled the planets in the tangent of their respective orbits? 

The first causes of motion do not exist in matter; bodies 
receive from and communicate motion to each other, but 
they cannot originally produce it. The more I observe the 
action and reaction of the powers of nature acting on each 
other, the more I am convinced that they are merely effects ; 
and we must ever recur to some volition as the first cause: 
for to suppose there is a progression of causes to infinity, is 
to suppose there is no first cause at all. In a word, every 
motion that is not produced by some other, must be the 
effect of a spontaneous, voluntary act. Inanimate bodies 
have no action but motion ; and there can be no real action 
without volition. Such is my first principle. I believe, 
therefore, that a Will gives motion to the universe, and ani 
mates all nature. This is my first article of faith. 

In what manner volition is productive of physical and 
corporeal action I know not, but I experience within myself 
that it is productive of it. I will to act, and the action im 
mediately follows; I will to move my body, and my body 
instantly moves; but, that an inanimate body lying at rest, 
should move itself, or produce motion, is incomprehensible 
and unprecedented. The Will also is known by its effects 
and not by its essence. I know it as the cause of motion; 
but to conceive matter producing motion, would be evidently 
to conceive an effect without a cause, or rather not to con 
ceive any thing at all. 

It is no more possible for me to conceive how the will 
moves the body, than how the sensations affect the soul. 
I even know not why one of these mysteries ever appeared 
more explicable than the other. For my own part, whether 
.at the time I am active or passive, the means of union be- 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 257 

tween the two substances appear to me absolutely incompre 
hensible. Is it not strange that the philosophers have thrown 
off this incomprehensibility, merely to confound the two 
substances together, as if operations so different could be 
better explained as the effects of one subject than of two. 

The principle which I have here laid down, is undoubtedly 
something obscure; it is however intelligible, and contains 
nothing repugnant to reason or observation. Can we say as 
much of the doctrines of materialism? It is very certain 
that, if motion be essential to matter, it would be inseparable 
from it; it would be always the same in every portion of it, 
incommunicable, and incapable of increase or diminution ; 
it would be impossible for us even to conceive matter at 
rest. Again, when I am told that motion is not indeed essen 
tial to matter, but necessary to its existence, I see through 
the attempt to impose on me by a form of words, which it 
would be more easy to refute, if more intelligible. For, 
whether the motion of matter arises from itself, and is 
therefore essential to it, or whether it is derived from some 
external cause, it is not further necessary to it than as the 
moving cause acting thereon : so that we still remain under 
the first difficulty. 

General and abstract ideas form the source of our greatest 
errors. The jargon of metaphysics never discovered one 
truth ; but it has filled philosophy with absurdities, of which 
we are ashamed as soon as they are stripped of their pom 
pous expressions. Tell me truly, my friend, if any precise 
idea is conveyed to your understanding when you are told 
of a blind, unintelligent power being diffused throughout 
all nature? It is imagined that something is meant by those 
vague terms, Universal force and Necessary motion; and 
yet they convey no meaning. The idea of motion is nothing 
more than the idea of passing from one place to another, nor 
can there be any motion without some particular direction ; 
for no individual being can move several ways at once. In 
what manner then is it that matter necessarily moves ? Has 
all the matter of which bodies are composed a general and 
uniform motion, or has each atom a particular motion of its 
own? If we give assent to the first notion, the whole uni 
verse will appear to be one solid and indivisible mass; and 









HC xxxiv 



258 ROUSSEAU 

according to the second, it should constitute a diffused and 
incoherent fluid, without a possibility that two atoms ever 
could be united. What can be the direction of this motion 
common to all matter? Is it in a right line upwards or 
downwards, to the right or to the left? Again, if every 
particle of matter has its particular direction, what can be 
the cause of all those directions and their variations? If 
every atom or particle of matter revolved only on its axis, 
none of them would change their place, and there would be no 
motion communicated; and even in this case it is necessary 
that such a revolving motion should be carried on one way. 
To ascribe to matter motion in the abstract, is to make use 
of terms without a meaning; and in giving it any deter 
minate motion, we must of necessity suppose the cause that 
determines it. The more I multiply particular forces, the 
more new causes have I to explain, without ever finding 
one common agent that directs them. So far from being 
able to conceive any regularity or order in the fortuitous 
concourse of elements, I cannot even conceive the nature 
of their concurrence; and an universal chaos is more in 
conceivable than universal harmony. I easily comprehend 
that the mechanism of the world cannot be perfectly known 
to the human understanding, but whenever men undertake 
to explain it, they ought at least to speak in such a man 
ner that others may understand them. 

If from matter being put in motion I discover the exist 
ence of a Will as the first active cause, the subjugation of 
this matter to certain regular laws of motion displays also 
intelligence. This is my second article of faith. To act, to 
compare, to prefer, are the operations of an active, thinking 
being: such a being, therefore, exists. Do you proceed to 
/ask me, where I discover its existence? I answer, not only 
in the revolutions of the celestial bodies; not only in myself; 
but in the flocks that feed on the plain, in the birds that fly 
in the air, in the stone that falls to the ground, and in the 
leaf that trembles in the wind. 

I am enabled to judge of the physical order of things, al 
though ignorant of their final cause; because to be able to 
form such a judgment it is sufficient for me to compare the 
several parts of the visible universe with each other, to 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 259 

study their mutual concurrence, their reciprocal relations, 
and to observe the general result of the whole. I am igno 
rant why the universe exists, but I am enabled nevertheless 
to see how it is modified. I cannot fail to perceive that 
intimate connection by which the several beings it is com 
posed of afford each other mutual assistance. I resemble, 
in this respect, a man who sees the inside of a watch for 
the first time, and is captivated with the beauty of the work, 
although ignorant of its use. I know not, he may say, what 
this machine is good for, but I perceive that each part is 
made to fit some other. I admire the artist for every part 
of his performance, and am certain that all these wheels act 
thus in concert to some common end, which as yet I fail to 
comprehend. 

But let us compare the partial and particular ends, the 
means whereby they are effected, and their constant re 
lations of every kind; then let us appeal to our innate sense 
of conviction; and what man in his senses can refuse to 
acquiesce in such testimony? To what unprejudiced view 
does not the visible arrangement of the universe display 
the supreme intelligence of its author? How much sophistry 
does it not require to disavow the harmony of created beings, 
and that admirable order in which all the parts of the 
system concur to the preservation of each other? You may 
talk to me as much as you please of combinations and 
chances: what end will it answer to reduce me to silence, 
if you can persuade me into the truth of what you advance? 
and how will you divest me of that involuntary sentiment 
which continually contradicts you? If organized bodies are 
fortuitously combined in a thousand ways before they as 
sume settled and constant forms ; if at first they are formed 
stomachs without mouths, feet without heads, hands without 
arms, and imperfect organs of every kind, which have 
perished for want of the necessary faculties of self-preserva 
tion ; how comes it that none of these imperfect essays have 
engaged our attention? Why hath nature at length con 
fined herself to laws to which she was not at first subjected? 
I confess that I ought not to be surprised that any possible 
thing should happen, when the rarity of the event is com 
pensated by the great odds that it did not happen. And yet 



260 ROUSSEAU 

if any one were to tell me that a number of printer s types, 
jumbled promiscuously together, had arranged themselves 
in the order of the letters composing the ^neid, I certainly 
should not deign to take one step to verify or disprove such 
a story. It may be said, I forget the number of chances: 
but pray how many must I suppose to render such a com 
bination in any degree probable? I, who see only the one, 
must conclude that there is an infinite number against it, 
and that it is not the effect of chance. Add to this that 
the product of these combinations must be always of the 
same nature with the combined elements; hence life and 
organization never can result from a blind concourse of 
atoms, nor will the chemist, with all his art in compounds, 
ever find sensation and thought at the bottom of his cru 
cible. 

I have been frequently surprised and sometimes scanda 
lized in the reading of Nieuwentheit. What a presumption 
was it to set down to make a book of those wonders 
of nature that display the wisdom of their author? Had 
his book been as big as the whole world, he would not have 
exhausted his subject; and no sooner do we enter into the 
minutiae of things than the greatest wonder of all escapes 
us; that is, the harmony and connection of the whole. 
The generation of living and organized bodies alone baffles 
all the efforts of the human understanding. That insur 
mountable barrier which nature hath placed between the 
various species of animals, that they might not be con 
founded with each other, makes her intentions sufficiently 
evident. Not contented only to establ ish order, she has 
taken effectual methods to prevent its being disturbed. 

There is not a being in the universe which may not, 
in some respect, be regarded as the common center of all 
others, which are ranged around it in such a manner that 
they serve reciprocally as cause and effect to one another. 
The imagination is lost and the understanding confounded 
in such an infinite diversity of relations, of which, however, 
not one of them is either lost or confounded in the crowd. 
How absurd the attempt to deduce this wonderful harmony 
from the blind mechanism of a fortuitous jumble of atoms! 
Those who deny the unity of design, so manifest in the 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 261 

relation of all the parts of this grand system, may endeavor 
as much as they will to conceal their absurdities with ab 
stract ideas, coordinations, general principles, and emblem 
atical terms. Whatever they may advance, it is impos 
sible for me to conceive that a system of beings can be so 
wisely regulated, without the existence of some intelligent 
cause which effects such regulation. It is not in my power 
to believe that passive inanimate matter could ever have 
produced living and sensible creatures, that a blind fatality 
should be productive of intelligent beings, or that a cause, 
incapable itself of thinking, should produce the faculty of 
thinking in its effects. 

I believe, therefore, that the world is governed by a wise 
and powerful Will. jee_jt L _or .rather I feel 1 it; : and this 
isjof_inrBprtance for me to know. But is the world eternal, 
or is it created? Are things derived from one self-existent 
principle, or are there two or more, and what is their 
essence? Of all this I know nothing, nor do I see that it is 
necessary I should. In proportion as such knowledge may 
become interesting I will endeavor to acquire it : but further 
than this I give up all such idle disquisitions, which serve 
on]y_JLQ make me discontented with myself, which are use r 
less__in practice, and are above my understanding. 

You will remember, however, that I am not dictating 
my sentiments to you, but only explaining what they are. 
Whether matter be eternal or only created, whether it have 
a passive principle or not, certain it is that the whole 
universe is one design, and sufficiently displays one intel 
ligent agent: for I see no part of this system that is not 
under regulation, or that does not concur to one and the 
same end ; viz. that of preserving the present and established 
order of things. That Being, whose will is his deed, whose 
principle of action is in himself, that Being, in a word, 
whatever it be, that gives motion to all parts of the universe, 
and governs all things, I call GOD. 

To this term I affix the ideas of inteiligen.ee, power, and 
will, which I have collected from the order of things; and 
to these I add that of goodness, which is a necessary con 
sequence of their union. But I am not at all the wiser con 
cerning the essence of the Being to which I give these 



262 HOUSSEAU 

attributes. He remains at an equal distance from my senses 
and my understanding. The more I think of him, the more 
I am confounded. I know of a certainty that he exists, and 
that his existence is independent of any of his creatures. 
I know also that my existence is dependent on his, and 
that every being I know is in the same situation as myself. 
I perceive the deity in all his works, I feel him within 
me, and behold him in every object around me: but I no 
sooner endeavor to contemplate what he is in himself, I 
no sooner enquire where he is, and what is his substance, 

;than he eludes the strongest efforts of my imagination; 

land my bewildered understanding is convinced of its own 
weakness. 

For this reason I shall never take upon me to argue about 
the nature of God further than I am obliged to do by the 
relation he appears to stand in to myself. There is so great 
a temerity in such disquisitions that a wise man will never 
enter on them without trembling, and feeling fully assured 
of his incapacity to proceed far on so sublime a subject: for 
it is less injurious to entertain no ideas of the deity at all, 
than to harbor those which are unworthy and unjust. 

After having discovered those of his attributes by which 
I am convinced of his existence, I return to myself and con 
sider the place I occupy in that order of things, which is 
directed by him and subjected to my examination. Here 
I find my species stand incontestibly in the first rank; as 
man, by virtue of his will and the instruments he is pos 
sessed of to put it in execution, has a greater power over the 
bodies by which he is surrounded than they, by mere physical 
impulse, have over him. By virtue of his intelligence, I 
also find, he is the only created being here below that can 
take a general survey of the whole system. Is there one 

among them, except man, who knows how to observe all 
others? to weigh, to calculate, to foresee their motions, 
their effects, and to join, if I may so express myself, the 
sentiment of a general existence to that of the individual? 
What is there so very ridiculous then in supposing every 
thing made for man, when he is the only created being who 
knows how to consider the relation in which all things 
stand to himself? 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 



263 



It is then true that man is lord of the creation, that 
he is, at least, sovereign over the habitable earth ; for it is 
certain that he not only subdues all other animals, and even 
disposes by his industry of the elements at his pleasure, but 
he alone of all terrestrial beings knows how to subject to 
his convenience, and even by contemplation to appropriate 
to his use, the very stars and planets he cannot approach. 
Let any one produce me an animal of another species who 
knows how to make use of fire, or hath faculties to admire 
the sun.^ What! am I able to observe, to know other beings 
and their relations, am I capable of discovering what is 
order, beauty, virtue, of contemplating the universe, of 

elevating my ideas to the hand which governs the whole, 

am I capable of loving what is good and doing it, and shal l I 
compare myself to the brutes ? Abject soul ! it is your gloomy 
philosophy alone that renders you at all like them. Or, 
rather, it is in vain you would debase yourself. Your own 
genius rises up against your principles ; your benevolent 
heart gives the lie to your absurd doctrines, and even the 
abuse of your faculties demonstrates their excellence in 
spite of yourself. 

For my part, who have no system to maintain, who am 
only a simple, honest man, attached to no party, unam 
bitious of being the founder of any sect, and contented with 
the situation in which God hath placed me, I see nothing in 
the world, except the deity, better than my own species ; and 
were I left to choose my place in the order of created beings, 
I see^none that I could prefer to that of man. 

This reflection, however, is less vain than affecting ; for my 
state is not the effect of choice, and could not be due to the 
merit of a being that did not before exist. Can I behold my 
self, nevertheless thus distinguished, without thinking my 
self happy in occupying so honorable a post; or without 
blessing the hand that placed me here? From the first view 
I thus took of myself, my heart began to glow with a sense 
of gratitude towards the author of our being; and hence 
arose my first idea of the worship due to a beneficent deity. \ 
I adore the supreme power, and melt into tenderness at his/ 
goodness. I have no need to be taught artificial forms of 
worship; the dictates of nature are sufficient. Is it not a 



264 ROUSSEAU 

natural consequence of self-love to honor those who protect 
us, and to love such as do us good? 

But when I come afterwards to take a view of the par 
ticular rank and relation in which I stand, as an individual, 
among the fellow-creatures of my species; to consider the 
different ranks of society and the persons by whom they are 
filled ; what a scene is presented to me ! Where is that order 
and regularity before observed? The scenes of nature 
present to my view the most perfect harmony and propor 
tion: those of mankind nothing but confusion and disorder. 
The physical elements of things act in concert with each 
other; the moral world alone is a chaos of discord. Mere 
animals are happy; but man, their lord and sovereign, is 
miserable! Where, Supreme Wisdom! are thy laws? Is 
lit thus, O Providence! thou governest the world? What 
is become of thy power, thou Supreme Beneficence ! when 
(I behold evil thus prevailing upon the earth? 

Would you believe, my good friend, that from such gloomy 
reflections and apparent contradictions, I should form to 
myself more sublime ideas of the soul than ever resulted 
from my former researches? In meditating on the nature 
of man, I conceived that I discovered two distinct principles; 
the one raising him to the study of eternal truth, the love 
of justice and moral beauty bearing him aloft to the regions 
of the intellectual world, the contemplation of which yields 
the truest delight to the philosopher ; the other debasing him 
even below himself, subjecting him to the slavery of sense, 
the tyranny of the passions, and exciting these to counteract 
every noble and generous sentiment inspired by the former. 
When I perceived myself hurried away by two such contrary 
powers, I naturally concluded that man is not one simple and 
; individual substance. I will, and I will not; I perceive myself 
> at once free, and a slave ; I see what is good, I admire it, 
and yet I do the evil : I am active when I listen to my reason, 
and passive when hurried away by my passions ; while my 
greatest uneasiness is to find, when fallen under temptations, 
that I had the power of resisting them. 

Attend, young man, with confidence to what I say; you 
will find I shall never deceive you. If conscience be the 
offspring of our prejudices, I am doubtless in the wrong, 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 265 

and moral virtue is not to be demonstrated; but if self-love, 
which makes us prefer ourselves to every thing else, be 
natural to man, and if nevertheless an innate sense of justice 
be found in his heart, let those who imagine him to be a 
simple uncompounded being reconcile these contradictions, 
and I will give up my opinion and acknowledge him to be 
one substance. 

You will please to observe that by the word substance I 
here mean, in general, a being possessed of some primitive 
quality, abstracted from all particular or secondary modifica 
tions. Now, if all known primitive qualities may be united 
in one and the same being, we have no need to admit of more 
than one substance; but if some of these qualities are incom 
patible with, and necessarily exclusive of each other, we must 
admit of the existence of as many different substances as 
there are such incompatible qualities. You will do well to 
reflect on this subject. For my part, notwithstanding what 
Mr. Locke hath said on this head, I need only to know that 
matter is extended and divisible, to be assured that it cannot 
think ; and when a philosopher comes and tells me that trees 
and rocks have thought and perception, he may, perhaps, 
embarrass me with the subtlety of his arguments, but I can 
not help regarding him as a disingenuous sophist, who had 
rather attribute sentiment to stocks and stones than acknow 
ledge men to have a soul. 

Let us suppose that a man, born deaf, should deny the 
reality of sounds, because his ears were never sensible of 
them. To convince him of his error, I place a violin before 
his eyes; and, by playing on another, concealed from him, 
give a vibration to the strings of the former. This motion, 
I tell him, is effected by sound. 

" Not at all," says he, " the cause of the vibration of the 
string, is in the string itself: it is a common quality in all 
bodies so to vibrate. " 

" Show me then," I reply, " the same vibration in other 
bodies; or at least, the cause of it in this string." 

" I cannot," the deaf man may reply, " but wherefore 
must I, because I do not conceive how this string vibrates, 
attribute the cause to your pretended sounds, of which I 
cannot entertain the least idea? This would be to attempt 



266 ROUSSEAU 

an explanation of one obscurity by another still greater. 
Either make your sounds perceptible to me, or I shall con 
tinue to doubt their existence." 

The more I reflect on our capacity of thinking, and the 
nature of the human understanding, the greater is the 
resemblance I find between the arguments of our material 
ists and that of such a deaf man. They are, in effect, equally 
deaf to that internal voice which, nevertheless, calls to them 
so loud and emphatically. A mere machine is evidently in 
capable of thinking, it has neither motion nor figure pro 
ductive of reflection: whereas in man there exists some 
thing perpetually prone to expand, and to burst the fetters 
by which it is confined. Space itself affords not bounds 
to the human mind: the whole universe is not extensive 
enough for man; his sentiments, his desires, his anxieties, 
and even his pride, take rise from a principle different from 
that body within which he perceives himself confined. 

No material being can be self-active, and I perceive that 
I am so. It is in vain to dispute with me so clear a point. 
My own sentiment carries with it a stronger conviction than 
any reason which can ever be brought against it. I have a 
body on which other bodies act, and which acts reciprocally 
upon them. This reciprocal action is indubitable ; but my will 
is independent of my senses. I can either consent to, or re 
sist their impressions. I am either vanquished or victor, and 
perceive clearly within myself when I act according to my 
will, and when I submit to be governed by my passions. I 
have always the power to will, though not the force to 
execute it. When I give myself up to any temptation, I act 
from the impulse of external objects. When I reproach my 
self for my weakness in so doing, I listen only to the dic 
tates of my will. I am a slave in my vices, and free in 
my repentance. The sentiment of my liberty is effaced only 
by my depravation, and when I prevent the voice of the soul 
from being heard in opposition to the laws of the body. 

All the knowledge I have of volition, is deduced from a 
sense of my own ; and, of the understanding, my knowledge 
is no greater. When I am asked what is the cause that 
determines my will, I ask in my turn, what is the cause that 
determines my judgment? for it is clear that these two 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 267 

causes make but one; and if we conceive that man is active 
in forming his judgment of things that his understanding 
is only a power of comparing and judging, we shall see that 
his liberty is only a similar power, or one derived from 
this he chooses the good as he judges of the true, and for 
the same reason as he deduces a false judgment, he makes f 
a bad choice. What then is the cause that determines his 
will? It is his judgment. And what is the cause that de 
termines his judgment? It is his intelligent faculty, his 
power of judging. The determining cause lies in himself. 
If we proceed beyond this point, I know nothing of the 
matter. 

Not that I can suppose myself at liberty not to will my 
own good, or to will my own evil : but my liberty consists in 
this very circumstance, that I am incapable to will any thing 
but what is useful to me, or at least what appears so, without 
any foreign object interfering in my determination. Does 
it follow from hence that I am not my own master because 
I am incapable of assuming another being, or of divesting 
myself of what is essential to my existence? 

The principle of all action lies in the will of a free being. 
We can go no farther in search of its source. It is not the 
word liberty that has no signification; it is that of necessity. 
To suppose any act or effect, which is not derived from an 
active principle, is indeed to suppose effects without a cause. 



Either there is no first impulse, or every first impulse can 
without liberty. Man is, therefore, a free agent, and as 

1 i _ 1 t 1 1 * TM 



have no prior cause ; nor can there be any such thing as will 



such animated by an immaterial substance. This is my 
third article of faith. From these three first you may easily^ ^ 
deduce all the rest, without my continuing to number them. 

If man be an active and free being, he acts of himself. 
None of his spontaneous actions, therefore, enter into the 
general system of Providence, nor can be imputed to it. 
Providence doth not contrive the evil, which is the con 
sequence of man s abusing the liberty his creator gave him; 
it only doth not prevent it, either because the evil which 
so impotent a being is capable of doing is beneath its notice, 
or because it cannot prevent it without laying a restraint 
upon his liberty, and causing a greater evil by debasing his 



268 ROUSSEAU 

nature. Providence hath left man at liberty, not that he 
should do evil, but good, by choice. It hath capacitated him 
to make such choice, in making a proper use of the fac 
ulties it hath bestowed on him. His powers, however, are at 
the same time so limited and confined, that the use he makes 
of his liberty is not of importance enough to disturb the 
general order of the universe. The evil done by man falls 
upon his own head, without making any change in the system 
of the world, without hindering the human species from 
being preserved in spite of themselves. To complain, there- 
^ , fore, that God doth not prevent man from doing evil is, 
j in fact, to complain that he hath given a superior excellence 
I to human nature, that he hath ennobled our actions by an 
nexing to them the merit of virtue. 

The highest enjoyment is that of being contented with 
ourselves. It is in order to deserve this contentment that 
we are placed here on earth and endowed with liberty, 
that we are tempted by our passions, and restrained by con 
science. What could Omnipotence itself do more in our 
favor? Could it have established a contradiction in our 
nature, or have allotted a reward for well-doing to a 
being incapable of doing ill? Is it necessary, in order to 
prevent man from being wicked, to reduce all his faculties 
to a simple instinct and make him a mere brute ? No ! never 
can I reproach the Deity for having given me a soul made 
in his own image, that I might be free, good, and happy like 
himself. 

It is the abuse of our faculties which makes us wicked and 
miserable. Our cares, our anxieties, our griefs, are all 
owing to ourselves. Moral evil is incontestibly our own 
work,^and physical evil would in fact be nothing, did not 
our vices render us sensible of it. Is it not for our pres 
ervation that nature makes us sensible of our wants? Is 
not pain of body an indication that the machine is out of 
order, and a caution for us to provide a remedy? And as 
to death, do not the wicked render both our lives and their 
own miserable? Who can be desirous of living here for 
ever? Death is a remedy for all the evils we inflict on 
^ {ourselves. Nature will not let us suffer perpetually. To 
Jhow few evils are men subject who live in primeval sim- 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 269 

plicity ! They hardly know any disease, and are irritated 
by scarcely any passions. They neither foresee death, nor 
suffer by the apprehensions of it. When it approaches, their 
miseries render it desirable, and it is to them no evil. If 
we could be contented with being what we are, we should 
have no inducement to lament our fate; but we inflict on 
ourselves a thousand real evils in seeking after an imaginary 
happiness. Those who are impatient under trifling incon 
veniences, must expect to suffer much greater. In our 
endeavors to reestablish by medicines a constitution impaired 
by irregularities, we always add to the evil we feel, the 
greater one which we fear. Our apprehensions of death 
anticipate its horrors and hasten its approach. The faster 
we endeavor to fly, the swifter it pursues us. Thus we are 
terrified as long as we live, and die murmuring against 
nature on account of those evils which we bring on ourselves 
by doing outrage to her laws. 

Enquire no longer then, who is the author of evil. Be 
hold him in yourself. There exists no other evil in nature 
than what you either do or suffer, and you are equally the 
author of both. A general evil could exist only in disorder, 
but in the system of nature I see an established order, which 
is never disturbed. Particular evil exists only in the senti 
ment of the suffering being; and this sentiment is not given 
to man by nature, but is of his own acquisition. Pain and 
sorrow have but little hold on those who, unaccustomed 
to reflection, have neither memory nor foresight. Take 
away our fatal improvements take away our errors and our 
vices take away, in short, every thing that is the work of 
man, and all that remains is good. 

Where every thing is good, nothing can be unjust, justice f 
being inseparable from goodness. Now goodness is the: 
necessary effect of infinite power and self-love essential 
to every being conscious of its existence. An omnipotent 
Being extends its existence also, if I may so express my 
self, with that of its creatures. Production and preserva 
tion follow from the constant exertion of its power: it does 
not act on non-existence. God is not the God of the dead; 
but of the living. He cannot be mischievous or wicked with 
out hurting himself. A being capable of doing every thing 



270 ROUSSEAU 

cannot will to do any thing but what is good. He who 
is infinitely good, therefore, because he is infinitely power 
ful, must also be supremely just, otherwise he would be 
inconsistent with himself. For that love of order which pro 
duces it we call goodness, and that love of order which pre 
serves it is called justice. 

God, it is said, owes nothing to his creatures. For my 
part, I believe he owes them every thing he promised them 
when he gave them being. Now what is less than to 
promise them a blessing, if he gives them an idea of it, and 
has so constituted them as to feel the want of it? The more 
I look into myself, the more plainly I read these words 
written in my soul : Be just and thou wilt be happy. I see 
not the truth of this, however, in the present state of things, 
wherein the wicked triumph and the just are trampled on 
and oppressed. What indignation, hence, arises within us 
to find that our hopes are frustrated! Conscience itself 
rises up and complains of its maker. It cries out to him, 
lamenting, thou hast deceived me! 

"I have deceived thee ! rash man? Who hath told thee 
so? Is thy soul annihilated? Dost thou cease to exist? 
Oh, Brutus ! stain not a life of glory in the end. Leave not 
thy honor and thy hopes with thy body in the fields of 
Philippi. Wherefore dost thou say, virtue is a shadow, 
when thou wilt yet enjoy the reward of thine own? Dost 
thou imagine thou art going to die? No! thou art going 
to live! and then will I make good every promise I have 
made to thee." 

One would be apt to think, from the murmurs of im 
patient mortals, that God owed them a recompense before 
they had deserved it; and that he was obliged to reward 
their virtue beforehand. No; let us first be virtuous, and 
rest assured we shall sooner or later be happy. Let us not 
require the prize before we have won the victory, nor de 
mand the price of our labor before the work be finished. 
" It is not in the lists," says Plutarch, " that the victors at 
our games are " crowned, but after the contests are over." 

If the soul be immaterial, it may survive the body, and 
if so, Providence is justified. Had I no other proof of the 
immateriality of the soul, than the oppression of the just 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 271 

and the triumph of the wicked in this world, this alone would 
prevent my having the least doubt of it. So shocking a dis 
cord amidst the general harmony of things, would make 
me naturally look out for the cause. I should say to my 
self, we do not cease to exist with this life, every thing re- 
assumes its order after death. I should, indeed, be em 
barrassed to tell where man was to be found, when all his 
perceptible properties were destroyed. At present, however, 
there appears to me no difficulty in this point, as I acknowl 
edge the existence of two different substances. It is very 
plain that during my corporeal life, as I perceive nothing 
but by means of my senses, whatever is not submitted to their 
cognizance must escape me. When the union of the body 
and the soul is broken, I conceive that the one may be dis 
solved, and the other preserved entire. Why should the 
dissolution of the one necessarily bring on that of the other? 
On the contrary, being so different in their natures, their 
state of union is a state of violence, and when it is broken 
they both return to their natural situation. The active and 
living substance regains all the force it had employed in 
giving motion to the passive and dead substance to which 
it had been united. Alas! my failings make me but too 
sensible that man is but half alive in this life, and that the 
life of the soul commences at the death of the body. 

But what is that life? Is the soul immortal in its own 
nature? My limited comprehension is incapable of con 
ceiving any thing that is unlimited. Whatever we call 
infinite is beyond my conception. What can I deny, or 
affirm? what arguments can I employ on a subject I cannot 
conceive? I believe that the soul survives the body so long 
as is necessary to justify Providence in the good order of 
things; but who knows that this will be forever? I can 
readily conceive how material bodies wear away and are 
destroyed by the separation of their parts, but I cannot con 
ceive a like dissolution of a thinking being; and hence, as 
I cannot imagine how it can die, I presume it cannot die 
at all. This presumption, also, being consolatory and not 
unreasonable, why should I be fearful to indulge it? 

I feel that I have a soul: I know it both from thought 
and sentiment: I know that it exists, without knowing its 



272 ROUSSEAU 

essence: I cannot reason, therefore, on ideas which I have 
not. One thing, indeed, I know very well, which is, that the 
identity of my being can be preserved only by the memory, 
and that to be in fact the same person, I must remember to 
have previously existed. Now I cannot recollect, after my 
death, what I was during life, without also recollecting my 
perceptions, and consequently my actions: and I doubt not 
but this remembrance will one day constitute the happiness 
of the just and the torment of the wicked. Here below, the 
violence of our passions absorbs the innate sentiment of right 
and wrong, and stifles remorse. The mortification and obloquy 
which virtue often suffers in the world, may prevent our 
being sensible of its charms. But when, delivered from 
the delusions of sense, we shall enjoy the contemplation of 
the Supreme Being, and those eternal truths of which he is 
the source; when the beauty of the natural order of things 
shall strike all the faculties of the soul, and when we shall 
be employed solely in comparing what we have really done 
with what we ought to have done, then will the voice of con 
science reassume its tone and strength; then will that pure 
delight, which arises from a consciousness of virtue, and 
the bitter regret of having debased ourselves by vice, deter 
mine the lot which is severally prepared for us. Ask me 
not, my good friend, if there may not be some other causes 
of future happiness and misery. I confess I am ignorant. 
These, however, which I conceive, are sufficient to console 
me under the inconveniencies of this life, and give me hopes 
of another. I do not pretend to say that the virtuous will 
receive any peculiar rewards ; for what other advantage can 
a being, excellent in its own nature, expect than to exist in 
a manner agreeable to the excellence of its constitution? 
I dare affirm, nevertheless, that they will be happy: because 
their Creator, the author of all justice, having given them 
sensibility, cannot have made them to be miserable; and as 
they have not abused their liberty on earth, they have not 
perverted the design of their creation by their own fault: 
yet, as they have suffered evils in this life, they will cer 
tainly be indemnified in another. This opinion is not so 
much founded on the merits of a man, as on the notion of 
that goodness which appears to me inseparable from the 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 273 

divine nature. I only suppose the order of things strictly 
maintained, and that the Deity is ever consistent withj > 

himself. 

It would be to as little purpose to ask me whether the tor 
ments of the wicked will be eternal. On this subject I am 
entirely ignorant, and have not the vain curiosity to perplex 
myself with such useless disquisitions. Indeed, why should 
I interest myself to discover their ultimate fate and destiny ? 
I can never believe, however, that they will be condemned 
to everlasting torments. 

If supreme justice avenges itself on the wicked, it avenges 
itself on them here below. It is you and your errors, ye 
nations! that are its ministers of vengeance. It employs 
the evils you bring on each other, to punish the crimes for 
which you deserve them. It is in the insatiable hearts of 
mankind, corroding with envy, avarice, and ambition, 
that their avenging passions punish them for their vices, 
amidst all the false appearances of prosperity. Where is 
the necessity of seeking a hell in another life, when it is to 
be found even in this, in the hearts of the wicked. 

Where our momentary necessities or senseless desires 
have an end, there ought our passions and our vices to end 
also. Of what perversity can pure spirits be susceptible? 
As they stand in need of nothing, to what end should they 
be vicious? If destitute of our grosser senses, can they 
be desirous of any thing but good? Doth not their hap 
piness consist principally in contemplation, and is it pos 
sible that those who cease to be wicked should be eternally 
miserable? 

This is what I am inclined to believe on this head, wit! 
out giving myself the trouble to determine positively con 
cerning the matter. 

O righteous and merciful being! whatever be thy decrees, 
I acknowledge their rectitude. If thou punishest the wicked, 
my weak reason is dumb before thy justice. But if the 
remorse of those unfortunate wretches is to have an end, 
if the same fate is one day to attend us all, my soul exults 
in thy praise. Is not the wicked man, after all, my brother? 
How often have I been tempted to resemble him in par 
taking of his vices. O ! may he be delivered from his misery ; 



274 ROUSSEAU 

may he cast off, also, that malignity which accompanies it; 
may^ he be ever as happy as myself; so far from exciting 
my jealousy, his happiness will only add to my own. 

It is thus by contemplating God in his works, and studying 
him in those attributes which it imports me to know, that 
I learn by degrees to extend that imperfect and confined idea 
I had at first formed of the Supreme Being. But, if this 
idea becomes thus more grand and noble, it is proportion- 
ably less adapted to the weakness of the human understand 
ing. In proportion as my mind approaches eternal light, 
its brightness dazzles and confounds me ; so that I am forced 
to give up all those mean and earthly images which assist 
my imagination. God is no longer a corporeal and per 
ceptible being: the supreme Intelligence which governs the 
world, is no longer the world itself; but in vain I endeavour 
to elevate my thoughts to a conception of his essence. When 
I reflect that it is he who gives life and activity to that 
living and active substance which moves and governs 
animated bodies, when I am told that my soul is a spiritual 
being, and that God is also a spirit, I am incensed at this 
debasement of the divine essence, as if God and my soul 
were of the same nature, as if God was not the only absolute, 
the only truly active being, perceiving, thinking and will 
ing of himself, from whom his creatures derive thought, 
activity, will, liberty, and existence. We are free only be 
cause it is his will that we should be so ; his inexplicable sub 
stance being, with respect to our souls, such as our souls are 
in regard to our bodies. I know nothing of his having 
created matter, bodies, spirits, or the world. The idea of 
creation confounds me and surpasses my conception, though 
I believe as much of it as I am able to conceive. But I know 
that God hath formed the universe and all that exists, in the 
most consummate order. He is doubtless eternal, but I am 
incapacitated to conceive an idea of eternity. Why then 
should I amuse myself with words? All that I conceive is, 
that he existed before all things, that he exists with them, 
and will exist after them, if they should ever have an end. 
That a being, whose essence is inconceivable, should give 
existence to other beings, is at best obscure and incom 
prehensible to our ideas; but that something and nothing 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 275 

should be reciprocally converted into each other is a pal 
pable contradiction, a most manifest absurdity. 

God is intelligent; but in what manner? Man is intelli 
gent by the act of reasoning, but the supreme intelligence 
lies under no necessity to reason. He requires neither 
premises nor consequences; nor even the simple form of a 
proposition. His knowledge is purely intuitive. He beholds 
equally what is~arid "will be. All truths are to him as one 
idea, as all places are but one point, and all times one 
moment. Human power acts by the use of means, the divine 
power in and of itself. God is powerful because he is will 
ing, his will constituting his power. God is good. Nothing 
is more manifest than this truth. Goodness in man, however, 
consists in a love to his fellow-creatures, and the goodness 
of God in a love of order; for it is on such order that the 
connexion and preservation of all things depend. Again, 
God is just. This I am fully convinced of, as justice is the 
natural consequence of goodness. The injustice of men 
is their own work, not his; and that moral disorder, which 
in the judgment of some philosophers makes against the 
system of providence, is in mine the strongest argument 
for it. Justice in man, indeed, is to render every one his 
due: but the justice of God requires at the hands of every 
one an account of the talents with which he has entrusted 
them. 

In the discovery by the force of reason, however, of those 
divine attributes of which I have no absolute idea, I only 
affirm what I do not clearly comprehend; which is in effect 
to affirm nothing. I may say, it is true that, God is this or 
that; I may be sensible of it and fully convinced within 
myself, but I may yet be unable to conceive how, or in what 
manner he is so. 

In short, the greater efforts I make to contemplate his 
infinite essence, the less I am able to conceive it. But I am 
certain that he is, and that is sufficient. The more he sur 
passes my conceptions, the more I adore him. I humble 
myself before him, and say : 

" Being of beings 1 I am, because thou art. To meditate 
continually on thee is to elevate my thoughts to the fountain 
of existence. The most meritorious use of my reason is to 



276 ROUSSEAU 

"be annihilated before thee. It is the delight of my soul, to 
feel my weak faculties overcome by the splendor of thy 
greatness." 

After having thus deduced this most important truth, from 
the impressions of perceptible objects and that innate prin- 
/ ciple which leads me to judge of natural causes from ex 
perience, it remains for me to inquire what maxims I ought 
to draw therefrom for my conduct in life, what rules I 
ought to prescribe to myself, in order to fulfill my destiny 
on earth agreeably to the design of him who placed me here. 
To pursue my own method, I deduce these rules, not from 
the sublime principles of philosophy, fcut. find them written 
m indelible characters on my heart. I have only to consult 
myself concerning what I ought to do. All that I feel to 
*<). be ri & ht is ri S ht: whatever I feel to be wrong, is wrong. 
**&t+d Conscience is the ablest of all casuists, and it is only when 
1 we are trafficing with her, that we have recourse to the 
isubtilties of logical ratiocination. The chief of our con 
cerns is that of ourselves; yet how often have we not been 
told by the monitor within, that to pursue our own interest 
at the expense of others would be to do wrong! We im 
agine, thus, that we are sometimes obeying the impulse of 
nature, and we are all the while resisting it. In listening 
to the voice of our senses we turn a deaf ear to the dic 
tates of our hearts, the active being obeys, the passive 

being commands. Conscience is the voice of the soul, the 

passions are the voice of the body. Is it* surprising that 
these two voices should sometimes contradict each other, or 
can it be doubted, when they do, which ought to be obeyed? 
Reason deceives us but too often, and has given us a right 
to distrust her conclusions; but conscience never deceives 
us. She is to the soul what instinct 2 is to the body, she is 

2 Modern philosophy, which affects to admit of nothing but what it can 
explain, hath nevertheless very unadvisedly admitted of that obscure faculty 
called instinct, winch appears to direct animals to the purposes of their 
being, without any acquisition of knowledge. Instinct, according to one of 
our greatest philosophers, is a habit destitute of reflection, but icquired by 
reflecting. Thus from the manner in which he explains its progress we are 
led to conclude that chi dren reflect more than grown person!; a plradox 
singular enough to require some examination. Without entering however 
into the discussion of it at present, I would only ask what name I am to 
Shfek\!r ea g er f ness f which my dog shows to pursue a mole, for instance, 
which he does not eat when he has caught it; to that patience with which 
he stands watching for them whole hours, and to that expertness with 
which he makes them a prey the moment they reach the surface of the 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 277 

man s truest and safest guide. Whoever puts himself under 
the conduct of this guide pursues the direct path of nature, 
and need not fear to be misled. This point is very impor 
tant, (pursued my benefactor, perceiving I was going to in 
terrupt him), permit me to detain you a little longer in order 
to clear it up. 

All the morality of our actions lies in the judgments we 
ourselves form of them. If virtue be any thing real, it 
ought to be the same in our hearts as in our actions; and 
one of the first rewards of virtue is to be conscious of our 
putting it in practice. If moral goodness be agreeable to 
our nature, a man cannot be sound of mind or perfectly 
constituted, unless he be good. On the contrary, if it be not 
so and man is naturally wicked, he cannot become good 
without a corruption of his nature; goodness being contrary 
to his constitution. Formed for the destruction of his fellow- 
creatures, as the wolf is to devour its prey, an humane and 
compassionate man would be as depraved an animal as a 
meek and lamb-like wolf, while virtue only would leave be 
hind it the stings of remorse. 

Let us examine ourselves, my young friend, all partiality 
apart, and see which way our inclinations tend. Which is 
most agreeable to us, to contemplate the happiness or the 
miseries of others? Which is the most pleasing for us to 
do, and leaves the most agreeable reflection after it, an act 
of benevolence or of cruelty? For whom are we the most 
deeply intere-ted at our theatres? Do you take a pleasure 
in acts of villainy? or do you shed tears at seeing the au 
thors of them brought to condign punishment ? It has been 
said that every thing is indifferent to us in which we are not 

earth; and that in order only to kill them, without ever having been trained 
to mole hunting, or having been taught that moles were beneath the spot? 
I would ask further, as more important, why the first time I threaten the 
same dog, he throws himself down with his back to the ground and his 
feet raised in a suppliant attitude, the most proper of all others to excite 
my compassion; an attitude in which he would not long remain if I were so 
obdurate as to beat him lying in such a posture? Is it possible that a 
young puppy can have already acquired moral ideas? Can he have any 
notion of clemency and generosity? What experience can encourage him 
to hope he shall appease me, by giving himself up to my mercy? Almost 
all dogs do nearly the same thing in the same circumstances, nor do I 
advance any thing here of which every one may not convince himself. Let 
the philosophers, who reject so disdainfully the term instinct, explain this 
fact ^merely by the operation of our senses, and the knowledge thereby 
acquired; let them explain it, I say, in a manner satisfactory to any person 
of common sense, and I have no more to say in favor of instinct. 



278 ROUSSEAU 

interested : the contrary, however, is certain ; as the soothing 
endearments of friendship and humanity console us under 
affliction; and even in our pleasures we should be too soli 
tary, too miserable, if we had nobody to partake them with 
us. If there be nothing moral in the heart of man, whence 
arise those transports of admiration and esteem we enter 
tain for heroic actions and great minds? What has this 
virtuous enthusiasm to do with our private interest? Where 
fore do I rather wish to be an expiring Cato, than a trium 
phant Caesar? Deprive our hearts of a natural affection 
for the sublime and beautiful, and you deprive us of all the 
pleasures of life. The man whose meaner passions have 
stifled in his narrow soul such delightful sentiments, he 
who by dint of concentrating all his affections within him 
self hath arrived at the pitch of having no regard for any 
one else, is no longer capable of such transports. His 
frozen heart never flutters with joy; no sympathetic tender 
ness brings the tears into his eyes; he is incapable of en 
joyment. The unhappy wretch is void of sensibility: he is 
already dead. 

But how great soever may be the number of the wicked, 
there are but few of these cadaverous souls but few per 
sons so insensible, if their own interest be set aside, to what 
is just and good. Iniquity never pleases unless we profit by 
it: in every other case it is natural for us to desire the pro 
tection of the innocent. When we see, for instance, in the 
street or on the highway, an act of injustice or violence 
committed, an emotion of resentment and indignation im 
mediately rises in the heart, and incites us to stand up in 
defence of the injured and oppressed: but a more powerful 
consideration restrains us, and the laws deprive individuals 
of the right of taking upon themselves to avenge insulted 
innocence. On the contrary, if we happen to be witnesses 
to any act of compassion or generosity, with what admira 
tion, with what esteem are we instantly inspired! Who 
is there that doth not, on such an occasion, say to himself, 
would that I had done as much ! It is certainly of very 
little consequence to us whether a man was good or bad 
who lived two thousand years ago; and yet we are as much 
affected in this respect by the relations we meet with in 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 279 

ancient history, as if the transactions recorded had hap 
pened in our own times. Of what hurt is the wickedness of 
a Catiline to me? Am I afraid of falling a victim to his 
villainy? Wherefore, then, do I look upon him with the 
same horror as if he were my contemporary? We hate the 
wicked not only because their vices are hurtful, but also 
because they are wicked. We are not only desirous of 
happiness for ourselves, but also for the happiness of others ; 
and when that happiness doth not diminish ours, it neces 
sarily increases it. In a word, we cannot help sympathizing 
with the unfortunate, and always suffer when we are wit 
nesses to their misery. The most perverse natures cannot 
be altogether divested of this sympathy; though it frequently 
causes them to act in contradiction to themselves. The rob 
ber who strips the passenger on the highway, will fre 
quently distribute his spoils to cover the nakedness of the 
poor, and the most barbarous assassin may be induced hu 
manely to support a man falling into a fit. 

We hear daily of the cries of remorse for secret crimes, 
and frequently see remarkable instances of conscience bring 
ing these crimes to light. Alas! who is a total stranger to 
this importunate voice? We speak of it from experience, 
and would be glad to silence so disagreeable a monitor. 
But let us be obedient to nature. We know that her gov 
ernment is very mild and gracious, and that nothing is more 
agreeable than the testimony of a good conscience, which 
ever follows our observance of her laws. The wicked man 
is afraid of, and shuns himself. He turns his eyes on 
every side in search of objects to amuse him. Without an 
opportunity for satire and raillery he would be always sad. 
His only pleasure lies in mockery and insult On the con 
trary, the serenity of the just is internal. His smiles are 
not those of malignity but of joy. The source of them is 
found in himself, and he is as cheerful when alone as in the 
midst of an assembly. He derives not contentment from 
those who approach him, but communicates it to them. 

Cast your eye over the several nations of the world: 
take a retrospective view of their various histories. Amidst 
all the many inhuman and absurd forms of worship, amidst 
all that prodigious diversity of manners and characters, 



280 ROUSSEAU 

you will everywhere find the same ideas of justice and 
honesty, the same notions of good and evil. Ancient pa 
ganism adopted the most abominable deities, which it would 
have punished on earth as infamous criminals deities that 
presented no other picture of supreme happiness than the 
commission of crimes, and the gratification of their passions. 
But vice, armed even with sacred authority, descended in 
vain on earth. Moral instinct influenced the human heart 
to rebel against it. Even in celebrating the debaucheries 
of Jupiter, the world admired and respected the con 
tinence of Xenocratcs. The chaste Lucretia adored the 
impudent Venus. The intrepid Roman sacrificed to Fear. 
They invoked the god Jupiter who disabled his father Sat 
urn, and yet they died without murmuring by the hand of 
their own. The most contemptible divinities were adored 
by the noblest of men. The voice of nature, more power 
ful than that of the gods, made itself respected on earth, and 
seemed to have banished vice to heaven. 

There evidently exists, then, in the soul of man, an in 
nate principle of justice and goodness, by which, in spite 
of our own maxims, we approve or condemn the actions 
of ourselves and others. To this principle it is that I give 
the appellation of conscience. 

At this word, however, I hear the clamor of our pre 
tentious philosophers, who all exclaim about the mistakes 
of infancy and the prejudices of education. There is noth 
ing, they say, in the human mind but what is instilled by 
experience; nor can we judge of anything but from the 
ideas we have acquired. Nay, they go farther, and venture 
to reject the universal sense of all nations; seeking some 
obscure example known only to themselves, to controvert 
this striking uniformity in the judgment of mankind: as if 
all the natural inclinations of the race were annihilated by 
the depravation of one people, and as if when monsters 
appeared the species itself were extinct. But what end 
did it serve to the skeptical Montaigne, to take so much 
trouble to discover in an obscure corner of the world a 
custom opposed to the common notions of justice? What 
end did it answer for him to place that confidence in the most 
suspicious travellers which he refused to the most celebrated 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 281 

writers? Should a few whimsical and uncertain customs, 
founded on local motives unknown to us, invalidate a gen 
eral induction drawn from the united concurrence of all 
nations, contradicting each other in every other point and 
agreeing only in this? You pique yourself, Montaigne, on 
being ingenuous and sincere. Give us a proof, if it be in the 
power of a philosopher, of your frankness and veracity. Tell 
me if there be any country upon earth in which it is deemed a 
crime to be sincere, compassionate, beneficent, and generous, 
in which an honest man is despicable, and knavery held 
in esteem? 

It is pretended that every one contributes to the public 
good for his own interest; but whence comes it that the 
virtuous man contributes to it to his prejudice ? Can a man 
lay down his life for his own interest? It is certain all our 
actions are influenced by a view to our own good; but un 
less we take moral good into the account, none but the 
actions of the wicked can ever be explained by motives of 
private interest. We imagine, indeed, that no more will be 
attempted; as that would be too abominable a kind of philo 
sophy, by which we should be puzzled to account for virtuous 
actions; or could extricate ourselves out of the difficulty 
only by attributing them to base designs and sinister views ; 
by debasing a Socrates and calumniating a Regulus. If ever 
such doctrines should take rise among us, the voice of 
nature as well as of reason would check their growth and 
leave not even one of those who inculcate them the simple 
excuse of being sincere. 

It is not my design here to enter into such metaphysical 
investigations, as surpass both your capacity and mine, and 
which in fact are useless. I have already told you I would 
not talk philosophy to you, but only assist you to consult 
your own heart. Were all the philosophers in Europe to 
prove me in the wrong, yet if you were sensible I was in 
the right, I should desire nothing more. 

To this end you need only to distinguish between our 
acquired ideas and our natural sentiments, for we are sen 
sible before we are intelligent; and as we do not learn to 
desire our own good and to avoid what is evil, but possess 
this desire immediately from nature, so the love of virtue 



282 ROUSSEAU 

and hatred of vice are as natural as the love of ourselves. 
The operations of conscience are not intellectual, but senti 
mental ; for though all our ideas are acquired from without, 
the sentiments which estimate them arise from within; and 
it is by these alone that we know the agreement or disagree 
ment which exists between us and those things which we 
ought to seek or shun. 

To exist is, with us, to be sensible. Our sensibility is 
incontestably prior to our intelligence, and we were pos 
sessed of sentiment before we formed ideas. Whatever 
was the cause of our being, it hath provided for our preser 
vation in furnishing us with sentiments agreeable to our 
constitution, nor can it possibly be denied that these at least 
are innate. 

These sentiments are, in the individual, the love of him 
self, aversion to pain, dread of death, and the desire of 
happiness. But if, as it cannot be doubted, man is by nature 
*V -a social being, or at least formed to become such, his 
sociability absolutely requires that he should be furnished 
with other innate sentiments relative to his species; for to 
consider only the physical wants of men, it would certainly 
be better for them to be dispersed than assembled. 

Now it is from this moral system, formed by its duplicate 
relation to himself and his fellow creatures, that the im 
pulse of conscience arises. To know what is virtuous is 
not to love virtue. Man has no innate knowledge of virtue ; 
but no sooner is it made known to him by reason, than con 
science induces him to love and admire it. This is the in 
nate sentiment I mean. 

I cannot think it impossible therefore to explain, from 
natural consequences, the immediate principle of conscience 
independent of reason; and, though it were impossible, it is 
not at all necessary; since those who reject this prin 
ciple (admitted, however, and acknowledged in general by 
all mankind) do not prove its non-existence, but content 
themselves with affirming it only. When we affirm that it 
doth exist, we stand at least on as good a footing as they, 
and have besides that internal testimony for us, the voice 
of conscience deposing in behalf of itself. If the first glim 
merings of the understanding dazzle our sight, and make 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 283 

objects appear at first obscure or confused, let us wait but a 
little while till our eyes recover themselves and gather 
strength, and we shall presently see, by the light of reason, 
those same objects to be such as nature first presented them: 
or rather, let us be more simple and less vain; let us con 
fine ourselves to the sentiments we first discovered, as it is 
to these our well-regulated studies must always recur. 

O Conscience ! Conscience ! thou divine instinct, thotT~~ 
certain guide of an ignorant and confined, though intelligent * 
and free being; thou infallible judge of good and evil, who V * 
makest man to resemble the Deity. In thee consist the ex 
cellence of our nature and the morality of our actions. ; 
Without thee I perceive nothing in myself that should ele 
vate me above the brutes, except the melancholy privilege 
of wandering from error to error by the assistance of an 
ill-regulated understanding and undisciplined reason. 

Thank heaven, we are delivered from this formidable 
apparatus of philosophy. We can be men without being 
sages. Without spending our days in the study of morality, 
we possess at a cheaper rate a more certain guide through 
the immense and perplexing labyrinth of human opinions. 
It is not enough, however, that such a guide exists, it is 
necessary to know and follow her. If she speaks to all 
hearts, it may be said, how comes it that so few understand 
her ? It is, alas ! because she speaks to us in ths language 
of nature, which every thing conspires to make us forget. 
Conscience is timid, she loves peace and retirement. The 
world and its noises terrify her. The prejudices she has <^o^t 
been compelled to give rise to are her most cruel enemies, ; 
before whom she is silent or avoids their presence. Their 
louder voice entirely overpowers her s, and prevents her 
being heard. Fanaticism counterfeits her nature, and dic 
tates in her name the greatest of crimes. Thus, from being 
often rejected, she at length ceases to speak to us, and 
answers not our inquiries after being long held in con 
tempt ; it also costs us as much trouble to recall, as it did at 
first to banish her from our bosoms. 

How often in my researches have I found myself fatigued 
from my indifference ! How often hath uneasiness and dis 
gust, poisoning my meditations, rendered them insupport- 



284 ROUSSEAU 

able ! My insensible heart was susceptible only of a luke 
warm and languishing zeal for truth. I said to myself, 
why should I take the trouble to seek after things that have 
no existence? Virtue is a mere chimera, nor is there any 
thing desirable but the pleasures of sense. When a man 
hath once lost a taste for the pleasures of the mind, how 
difficult to recover it! How much more difficult it also is 
for one to acquire such a taste who never possessed it! If 
there be in the world a man so miserable as never in his 
life to have done an action the remembrance of which must 
make him satisfied with himself, that man must be ever in 
capable of such a taste; and for want of being able to 
perceive that goodness which is conformable to his nature, 
must of necessity remain wicked as he is, and eternally 
miserable. But can you believe there exists on earth a human 
creature so depraved as never to have given up his heart 
to the inclination of doing good? The temptation is so 
natural and seductive, that it is impossible always to resist 
it, and the remembrance of the pleasure it hath once given 
us is sufficient to commend it to us ever afterwards. Un 
happily, this propensity is at first difficult to gratify. There 
are a thousand reasons for our not complying with the dic 
tates of our hearts. The false prudence of the world con 
fines our good inclinations to ourselves, and all our fortitude 
is necessary to cast off the yoke. To take a pleasure in 
virtue is the reward of having been virtuous, nor is this 
prize to be obtained till it be merited. 

Nothing is more amiable than virtue, but we must possess 
it, in order to find it such. When we court at first its em 
braces, it assumes, like Proteus in the fable, a thousand 
terrifying forms, and displays at last its own only to those 
who are tenacious of their hold. 

Wavering perpetually between my natural sentiments, 
tending to the general good of mankind, and my reason, 
confining everything to my own, I should have remained all 
my life in this continual dilemma, doing evil yet loving 
good, in constant contradiction with myself, had not new 
knowledge enlightened my heart; had not the truth, which 
determined ray opinions, directed also my conduct and ren 
dered me consistent. 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 285 

Itjisjn vain to attempt the establishmment of virtue on 
the foundation of reason alone. What solidity is there in 
such a base? Virtue, it is said, is the love of order; but can 
or ought this love of order to prevail over that of my own 
happiness? Let there be given me a clear and sufficient 
reason for my giving it the preference. This pretended 
principle is at the bottom only a mere play upon words; 
as I may as well say that vice also consists in the love of 
order taken in a different sense. There is some kind of moral 
order in every thing that has sentiment and intelligence.^ 
The difference is that a good being regulates himself accord 
ing to the general order of things, and a wicked being regu , 
lates things agreeably to his own private interest : the latter *- 
makes himself the centre of all things, and the former 
measures his radius and disposes himself in the circumfer 
ence. Here he is arranged, with respect to the common 
centre, as God, and with respect to all concentric circles, 
as his fellow creatures. If there be no God, the wicked 
man only reasons right the good man is a mere fool. 

O my child ! may you be one day sensible how great a 
weight we are relieved from, when, having exhausted the 
vanity of human opinions and tasted of the bitterness of 
the passions, we see ourselves at last so near the path to 
wisdom, the reward of our good actions, and the source 
of that happiness we had despaired of obtaining. 

Every duty prescribed by the laws of nature, though al 
most effaced from my heart by the injustice of mankind, 
again revived at the name of that eternal justice which im 
posed them, and was a witness to my discharge of them. 
I see in myself nothing more than the work and instrument 
of a superior being desirous of and doing good, desirous 
also of effecting mine by the concurrence of my will to his 
own, and by my making a right use of my liberty. I ac 
quiesce in the regularity and order he hath established, being 
certain of enjoying one day or other that order in myself, 
and of finding my happiness therein : for what can afford 
greater felicity than to perceive one s self making a part 
of a system where every thing is constructed aright? Onii 4*-**" 
every occasion of pain or sorrow I support them with pa-r 
tience, reflecting that they are transitory and that they arc 



286 ROUSSEAU 

derived from a body that is detached from myself. If I do 
a good action in secret, I know that it is nevertheless seen, 
and make the consideration of another life the rule of my 
conduct in this. If I am ever dealt with unjustly I say to 
myself, that just Being, who governs all things, knows how 
to indemnify me. My corporeal necessities and the miseries 
inseparable from this mortal life, make the apprehensions 
of death more supportable. I have hence so many chains 
the less to break when I am obliged to quit this mortal scene. 

For what reason my soul is thus subjected to the organs 
of sense and chained to a body which lays it under so much 
restraint, I know not, nor presume to enter into the decrees 
of the Almighty. But I may, without temerity, form a 
modest conjecture or two on this subject. I reflect that, if 
the mind of man had remained perfectly free and pure, what 
merit could he have pretended to in admiring and pursuing 
that order which he saw already established, and which he 
would lie under no temptation to disturb? It is true he 
would have been happy, but he could not have attained that 
most sublime degree of felicity the glory of virtue and the 
testimony of a good conscience. We should in such a case 
have been no better than the angels, and without doubt a 
virtuous man will be one day much superior. Being united 
on earth to a mortal body by ties not less powerful than 
incomprehensible, the preservation of that body becomes the 
great concern of the soul, and makes its present apparent in 
terests contrary to the general order of things, which it is 
nevertheless capable of seeing and admiring. It is in this 
situation that by making a good use of his liberty, it becomes 
at once his merit and his reward; and that he prepares for 
himself eternal happiness in combating his earthly passions, 
and preserving the primitive purity of his will. 

But even supposing that in our present state of depravity 
our primitive propensities were such as they ought to be, 
yet if all our vices are derived from ourselves, why do we 
complain that we are subjected by them? Why do we im 
pute to the Creator those evils which we bring on ourselves, 
and those enemies we arm against our own happiness ? Ah ! 
ilet us not spoil the man of nature, and he will always be 
virtuous without constraint, and happy without remorse. 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 287 

The criminals who pretend they are compelled to sin, are as 
false as they are wicked. Is it possible for them not to 
see that the weakness they complain of is their own work; 
that their first depravation was owing to their own will; 
that by their willfully yielding at first to temptations, they 
at length find them irresistible? It is true they now can 
not help their being weak and wicked; but it is their fault 
that they at first became so. How easily might men pre 
serve the mastery over themselves and their passions 
even during life if, before their vicious habits are ac 
quired, when the faculties of the mind are just beginning 
to be displayed, they should employ themselves on those 
objects which it is necessary for them to know in order to 
judge of those which are unknown; if they were sincerely 
desirous of acquiring knowledge, not with a view of making 
a parade in the eyes of others, but in order to render them 
selves wise, good, and happy in the practice of their natural 
duties ! This study appears difficult because we only apply 
to it after being already corrupted by vice, and made 
slaves to our passions. We place our judgment and esteem 
on objects before we arrive at the knowledge of good and 
evil, and then referring every thing to that false standard, 
we hold nothing in its due estimation. 

The heart, at a certain age, while it is yet free, eager, 
restless, and anxious for happiness, is ever seeking it with 
an impatient and uncertain curiosity; when deceived by 
the senses, it fixes on the shadow of it, and imagines it to 
be found where it doth not exist. This illusion hath pre 
vailed too long with me. I discovered it, alas ! too late ; and 
have not been able entirely to remove it : no, it will remain 
with me as long as this mortal body, which gave rise to it. 
It may prove as seductive, however, as it will, it can no 
longer deceive me. I know it for what it is, and even while 
I am misled by it, despise it. So far from esteeming it an 
object of happiness, I see it is an obstacle to it. Hence I 
long for that moment when I shall shake off this incum- 
brance of body and be myself, without inconsistency or par 
ticipation with matter, and shall depend on myself only to 
be happy. In the mean time I make myself happy in this 
life, because I hold the evils of life as trifling in themselves ; 



288 ROUSSEAU 

fas almost foreign to my being; and conceive at the same 
| time that all the real good which may thence be deduced 
j depends on myself. 

To anticipate as much as possible that desirable state 
of happiness, power and liberty, I exercise my mind in 
j sublime contemplations. I meditate on the order of the 
universe, not indeed with a view to explain it by vain 
systems, but to admire it perpetually and to adore its 
: ,/,f all-wise Creator, whose features I trace in his workman 
ship. With him I am thus enabled to converse, and to exert 
my faculties in the contemplation of his divine essence. 
I am affected by his beneficence, I praise him for his 
mercies, but never so far forget myself as to pray. For 
what should I ask of him? That he should for my sake 
pervert the order of things, and work miracles in my favor? 
Shall I, who ought to love and admire above all things that 
order which is established by his wisdom and maintained by 
his providence, desire that such order should be broken for 
me ? No ! such a rash petition would rather merit punish 
ment than acceptance. Nor can I pray to him for the 
power of acting aright: for why should I petition for what 
he hath already given me? Hath he not given me con 
science to love virtue, reason to know what it is, and 
liberty to make it my choice? If I do evil, I have no ex 
cuse: I do it because I will. To desire him to change my 
will, is to require that of him which he requires of me. 
This would be to desire him to do my work, while I receive 
" the reward. Not to be content with my situation in the 
order of things, is to desire to be no longer a man; it is 
r to wish that things were otherwise constituted than they 
y^,, are, to wish for evil and disorder. No, thou source of 
justice and truth, God ! merciful and just ! placing my con 
fidence in thee, the chief desire of my heart is that thy will 
be done. By rendering my will conformable to thine, I 
act as thou dost, I acquiesce in thy goodness, and conceive 
myself already a partaker of that supreme felicity which 
is its reward. 

The only thing which, under a just diffidence of myself, 
I request of him, or rather expect from his justice, is that 
he will correct my errors when I go astray. To be sincere, 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 289 

however, I do not think my judgment infallible: such of my 
opinions as seem to be the best founded may, nevertheless, 
be false; for what man hath not his opinions, and how 
few are there who agree in every thing? It is to no pur 
pose that the illusions by which I am misled arise from my 
self; it is he alone who can dissipate them. I have done 
every thing in my power to arrive at truth; but its source 
is elevated beyond my reach. If my faculties fail me, in 
what am I culpable? Is it not then necessary for 1 truth to 
stoop to my capacity? 

The good priest spoke with much earnestness : he was 
deeply moved, and I was also greatly affected. I imagined 
myself attending to the divine Orpheus singing his hymns 
and teaching mankind the worship of the gods. A number 
of objections, however, to what he had said, suggested 
themselves; though I did not urge one, as they were less 
solid than perplexing; and though not convinced, I was 
nevertheless persuaded he was in the right. In proportion 
as he spoke to me from the conviction of his own con 
science, mine confirmed me in the truth of what he said. 

The sentiments you have been delivering, said I to him, 
appear newer to me in what you confess yourself ignorant 
of, than in what you profess to believe. I see in the latter 
a resemblance to that theism or natural religion which 
Christians affect to confound with atheism and impiety, 
though in fact diametrically opposite. In the present con 
dition of my mind I find it difficult to adopt precisely your 
opinions and to be as wise as you. To be at least as sincere, 
however, I will consult my own conscience on these points. 
It is that internal sentiment which, according to your 
example, ought to be my monitor; and you have yourself 
taught me that, after having imposed silence on it for a long 
time, it is not to be awakened again in a moment. I will 
treasure up your discourse in my heart and meditate there 
on. If I am as much convinced as you are, after I have 
duly weighed it, I will trust you as my apostle and will be 
your proselyte till death. Go on, however, to instruct me. c 
You have only informed me of half I ought to know. Give 
me your thoughts on revelation, the scriptures, and those 
mysterious doctrines concerning which I have been in the dark 
(j) HC xxxiv 



290 ROUSSEAU 

from my infancy, without being able to conceive or believe 
them, and yet not knowing how to either admit or reject 
them. 

Yes, my dear child, (said he), I will proceed to tell you 
what I think further. I meant not to open my heart to you 
by halves : but the desire which you express to be informed 
in these particulars, was necessary to authorize me to be 
totally without reserve. I have hitherto told you nothing 
but what I thought might be useful to you, and in the truth 
of which I am most firmly persuaded. The examination 
which I am now going to make is very different; pre 
senting to my view nothing but perplexity, mysteriousness, 
and obscurity. I enter on it, therefore, with distrust and 
uncertainty. I almost tremble to determine about any 
thing, and shall, therefore, rather inform you of my doubts 
than of my opinions. Were your own sentiments more 
confirmed, I should hesitate to acquaint you with mine; 
but in your present skeptical situation, you will be a gainer 
by thinking as I do. Let my discourse, however, carry with 
i+ no greater authority than that of reason, for I frankly 
confess myself ignorant as to whether I am in the right 
or wrong. It is difficult, indeed, in all discussions, not 
to assume sometimes an affirmative tone; but remember 
that all my affirmations, in treating these matters, are only 
so many rational doubts. I leave you to investigate the 
truth of them. On my part, I can only promise to be 
sincere. 

You will find that my exposition treats of nothing more 
than natural religion. It is very strange that we should 
stand in need of any other ! By what means can I find out 
such necessity? In what respect can I be culpable for 
serving God agreeably to the dictates of the understanding 
he hath given me, and the sentiments he hath implanted 
5n my heart? What purity of morals, what system of faith 
useful to man, or honorable to his Creator, can I deduce 
from any positive doctrines, that I cannot deduce equally as 
well from a good use of my natural faculties? Let any 
one show me what can be added, either for the glory of God, 
the good of society, or my own advantage, to the obliga- 






A SAVOYARD VICAR 291 

tions we are laid under by nature. Let him show me what 
virtue can be produced from any new worship, which is 
not also the consequence of mine. The most sublime ideas 
of the Deity are inculcated by reason alone. Take a view 
of the works of nature, listen to the voice within, and then 
tell me what God hath omitted to say to your sight, your 
conscience, your understanding? Where are the men who 
can tell us more of him than he thus tells us of himself? 
Their revelations only debase the Deity, in ascribing to him 
human passions. So far from giving us enlightened notions 
of the Supreme Being, their particular tenets, in my 
opinion, give us the most obscure and confused ideas. To 
the inconceivable mysteries by which the Deity is hid from 
our view, they add the most absurd contradictions. They 
serve to make man proud, persecuting, and cruel. Instead 
of establishing peace on earth, they bring fire and sword. 
I ask myself what good purpose all this contention serves, 
without being able to resolve the question. Artificial 
religion presents to my view only the wickedness and 
miseries of mankind. 

I am told, indeed, that revelation is necessary to teach 
mankind the manner in which God should be served. As 
a proof of this, they bring the diversity of whimsical modes 
of worship which prevail in the world; and that without 
remarking that this very diversity arises from the practice 
of adopting revelations. Ever since men have taken it 
into their heads to make the Deity speak, every people make 
him speak in their own way, and say what they like best. 
Had they listened only to what the Deity hath said to their 
hearts, there would have been but one religion on earth. 

It is necessary that the worship of God should be uniform ; 
I would have it so: but is this a point so very important 
that the whole apparatus of divine power was necessary 
to establish it? Let us not confound the ceremonials of 
religion with religion itself. The worship of God demands 
that of the heart; and this, when it is sincere, is ever 
uniform. Men must entertain very ridiculous notions of the 
Deity, indeed, if they imagine he can interest himself in the 
gown or cassock of a priest, in the order of words he pro 
nounces, or in the gestures and genuflexions he makes at 



292 ROUSSEAU 

the altar. Alas! my friend, where is the use of kneeling? 
Stand as upright as you may, you will always be near 
enough to the earth. God requires to be worshipped in 
spirit and in truth. This is a duty incumbent on men 
of all religions and countries. With regard to exterior 
forms, if their uniformity be expedient for the sake of 
peace and good order, it is merely an affair of government; 
the administration of which surely requires not the aid 
of revelation. 

I did not set out at first with these reflections. Hurried 
on by the prejudices of education, and by that dangerous 
self-conceit which ever elates mankind above their sphere, 
as I could not raise my feeble conceptions to the Supreme 
Being, I foolishly endeavored to debase him to my ideas. 
Thus I connected relations infinitely distant from each 
other, comparing the incomprehensible nature of the deity 
with my own. I required still further a more immediate 
communication with the Divinity, and more particular instruc 
tions concerning his will. Not content with reducing God 
to a similitude with man, I wanted to be further dis 
tinguished by his favor, and to enjoy supernatural lights. 
I longed for an exclusive and peculiar privilege of adora 
tion, and that God should have revealed to me what he had 
kept secret from others, or that others should not understand 
his revelations so well as myself. 

Looking on the point at which I had arrived, at that 
whence all believers set out in order to reach an enlightened 
mode of worship, I regarded natural religion only as the 
elements of all religion. I took a survey of that variety of 
sects which are scattered over the face of the earth, and 
who mutually accuse each other of falsehood and error. 
I asked which of them was right? 

Every one of them in their turn answered theirs. I and 
my partisans only think truly; all the rest are mistaken. 

But, how do you know that your sect is in the right? 

Because God hath declared so. 

And who tells you that God hath so declared! 

My spiritual guide, who knows it well. My pastor tells 
me to believe so and so, and accordingly I believe it; he 
assures me that every one who says to the contrary speaks 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 293 

falsely; and, therefore, I listen to nobody who controverts 
his doctrine. 3 

How, thought I, is not the truth every where the same? 
Is it possible that what is true with one person can be false 
with another? If the method taken by him who is in the 
right, and by him who is in the wrong, be the same, what 
merit or demerit hath the one more than the other? 
Their choice is the effect of accident, and to impute 
it to them is unjust: it is to reward or punish them for 
being born in this or that country. To say that the Deity 
can judge us in this manner is the highest impeachment of 
his justice. 

Now, either all religions are good and agreeable to God, 
or if there be one which he hath dictated to man, and will 
punish him for rejecting, he hath certainly distinguished it 
by manifest signs and tokens as the only true one. These 
signs are common to all times and places, and are equally 
obvious to all mankind to the young and old, the learned 
and ignorant, to Europeans, Indians, Africans, and Savages. 

If there be only one religion in the world that can pre 
vent our suffering eternal damnation, and there be on any 
part of the earth a single mortal who is sincere, and is not 
convinced by its evidence, the God of that religion must be 
the most iniquitous and cruel of tyrants. Would we seek 
the truth therefore in sincerity, we must lay no stress on 
the place or circumstance of our birth, nor on the authority 
of fathers and teachers; but appeal to the dictates of reason 
and conscience concerning every thing that is taught us in 
our youth. It is to no purpose to bid me subject my reason 
to the truth of things of which it is incapable of judging. 
The man who would impose on me a falsehood, may bid \ 
me do the same. It is necessary, therefore, I should employ I 
my reason even to know when it ought to submit. 

8 All of them, says a certain wise and good priest, pretend that they 
derive their doctrines not from men, nor from any created being, but from 
God. But to say truth, without flattery or disguise, there is nothing in such 
Pretentions: however they may talk, they owe their religion to human means. 
Witness the manner in which they first adopt it. The nation, country and 
place where they are born and bred determine it. Are we not circumcised 
or baptized, made Jews, Turks, or Christians before we are men? Our 
religion is not the effect of choice; witness our lives and manners so little 
accordant to it; witness how we act contrary to the tenets of it on the most 
trifling occasions. Charron, on Wisdom. 



294 ROUSSEAU 

All the theology I am myself capable of acquiring, by 
taking a prospect of the universe and by the proper use of 
my faculties, is confined to what I have here laid down. To 
know more, we must have recourse to extraordinary means. 
These means cannot depend on the authority of men: for 
as all men are of the same species as myself, whatever 
another can by natural means come to the knowledge of, I 
can do the same ; and another man is as liable to be deceived 
as I am. When I believe, therefore, what he says, it is not 
because he says it, but because he proves it. The testimony 
of mankind, therefore, is really that of my reason, and adds 
nothing to the natural means God hath given me for the 
discovery of the truth. 

What then can even the apostle of truth have to tell 
me, of which I am not still to judge? 

But God himself hath spoken; listen to the voice of 
revelation. 

That, indeed, is another thing. God hath spoken! This 
is saying a great deal: but to whom hath he spoken? 

He hath spoken to man. 

How comes it then that I heard nothing of it? 

He hath appointed others to teach you his word. 

I understand you. There are certain men who are to tell 
me what God hath said. I had much rather have heard it 
from himself. This, had he so pleased, he could easily have 
done; and I should then have run no risk of deception. 
Will it be said I am secured from that by his manifesting 
the mission of his messengers by miracles? Where are 
those miracles to be seen? Are they related only in books? 
Pray, who wrote those books? 

Men. 

Who were witnesses to these miracles? 

Men. 

Always human testimony! It is always men who tell 
me what other men have told them. What a number of 
those are constantly between me and the Deity ! We are 
always reduced to the necessity of examining, comparing, 
and verifying such evidence. O ! that God had deigned 
to have saved me all this anxiety! Should I in that case 
have served him with a less willing heart? 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 295 

Consider, my friend, in what a terrible discussion I am 
already engaged; what immense erudition I stand in need 
of to recur back to the earliest antiquity to examine, to 
weigh, to confront prophecies, revelations, facts, with all 
the monuments of faith that have made their appearance 
in all the countries of the world; to ascertain their time, 
place, authors, and occasions. How great the critical saga 
city which is requisite to enable me to distinguish 
between pieces that are suppositions, and those 
which are authentic; to compare objections with their , 
replies, translations with their originals; to judge of the 
impartiality of witnesses, of their good sense, of their 
capacity; to know if nothing be suppressed or added to 
their testimony, if nothing be changed, transposed, or falsi 
fied; to obviate the contradictions that remain, to judge what 
weight we ought to ascribe to the silence of our opponents 
in regard to facts alleged against them ; to discover whether 
such allegations were known to them; whether they did 
not disdain them too much to make any reply; whether 
books were common enough for ours to reach them; or, if 
we were honest enough to let them have free circulation 
among us, and to leave their strongest objections in full 
force. 

Again, supposing that all these monuments of faith are 
acknowledged to be incontestable, we must proceed to 
examine the proofs of the mission of their authors. It 
would be necessary for us to be perfectly acquainted with 
the laws of chance and the doctrine of probabilities, to 
judge correctly what prediction could not be accomplished 
without a miracle; to know the genius of the original 
languages, in order to distinguish what is predictive in these 
languages and what is only figurative. It would be requisite 1 
for us to know what facts are agreeable to the established 
order of nature, and what are not so; to be able to say 
how far an artful man may not fascinate the eyes of the 
simple, and even astonish the most enlightened spectators; 
to know of what kind a miracle should be, and the authen 
ticity it ought to bear, not only to claim our belief, but to 
make it criminal to doubt it; to compare the proofs of false 
and true miracles, and discover the certain means of dis- 



296 ROUSSEAU 

tinguishing tnem; and after all to tell why the Deity should 
choose, in order to confirm the truth of his word, to make 
use of means which in their turn require confirmation, as 
if he took delight in playing upon the credulity of mankind, 
and had purposely avoided the direct means to persuade 
them. 

Suppose that the divine majesty hath really condescended 
to make man the organ of promulgating its sacred will, is 
it reasonable, is it just, to require all mankind to obey the 
voice of such a minister, without his making himself known 
to be such? Where is the equity or propriety in furnishing 
him, for universal credentials, with only a few particular 
tokens displayed before a handful of obscure persons, and 
of which all the rest of mankind know nothing but by 
hearsay? In every country in the world, if we should be 
lieve all the prodigies to be true which the common people 
and the ignorant affirm to have seen, every sect would be 
in the right; there would be more miraculous events than 
natural ones; and the greatest miracle of all would be to 
find that no miracles had happened where fanaticism had 
been persecuted. 

The Supreme Being is best displayed by the fixed and un 
alterable order of nature. If there should happen many 
exceptions to such general laws, I should no longer know 
what to think; and for my part, I must confess I believe 
too much in God to believe in so many miracles so little 
worthy of him. 

What if a man should come and harangue us in the 
following manner: 

" I come, ye mortals, to announce to you the will of the 
most high. Acknowledge in my voice that of him who sent 
me. I command the sun to move backwards, the stars to 
change their places, the mountains to disappear, the waves 
to remain fixed on high, and the earth to wear a different 
aspect." 

Who would not, at the sight of such miracles, immediately 
attribute them to the author of nature? 

Nature is not obedient to impostors. Their miracles are 
always performed in the highways, in the fields, or in apart 
ments where they are displayed before a small number of 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 297 

spectators, previously disposed to believe every thing they 
see. 

Who is there that will venture to decide how many eye 
witnesses are necessary to render a miracle worthy of 
credit? If the miracles, intended to prove the truth of your 
doctrine, stand themselves in need of proof, of what use 
are they? Their performance might as well have been 
omitted. 

The most important examination after all remains to 
be made into the truth of the doctrines delivered; for as 
those who say that God is pleased to work these miracles, 
pretend that the devil sometimes imitates them, we are 
no nearer a decision than before, though such miracles 
should be ever so well attested. As the magicians of 
Pharaoh worked the same miracles, even in the presence 
of Moses, as he himself performed by the express command 
of God, why might not they, in his absence, from the same 
proofs, pretend to the same authority? Thus after proving 
the truth of the doctrine by the miracle, you are reduced 
to the necessity of proving the truth of the miracle by that 
of the doctrine, 4 lest the works of the devil should be mis 
taken for those of the Lord. What think you of this 
alternative? 

The doctrines coming from God, ought to bear the sacred 
characters of the divinity; and should not only clear up 
those confused ideas which unenlightened reason excites 

4 This is expressly mentioned in many places in scripture, particularly in 
Deuteronomy, chap, xiii., where it is said that, if a prophet, teaching the 
worship of strange Gods, confirm his discourse by signs and wonders, and 
what he foretells really comes to pass, so far from paying any regard to his 
mission, the people should stone him to death. When the Pagans, there 
fore, put the Apostles to death, for preaching up to them the worship of 
a strange God, proving their divine mission by prophesies and miracles, I 
see not what could be objected to them, which they might not with equal 
justice have retorted upon us. Now, what is to be done in this case? 
There is but one step to be taken, to recur to reason and leave miracles to 
themselves: better indeed had it been never to have had recourse to them, 
nor to have perplexed good sense with such a number of subtle distinctions. 
What! do I talk of subtle distinctions in Christianity? If there are such, 
our Saviour was in the wrong surely to promise the Kingdom of Heaven 
to the weak and simple! How came he to begin his fine discourse on the 
Mount, with blessing the poor in spirit, if it requires so much ingenuity to 
comprehend and believe his doctrines? When you prove that I ought to 
subject my reason to his dictates, it is very well; but to prove that, you 
must render them intelligible to my understanding; you must adapt your 
arguments to the poverty of my genius, or I shall not acknowledge you to 
be the true disciple of your Master, or think that it is his doctrines which 
you would inculcate. 



298 KOUSSEAU 

in the mind, but should also furnish us with a system of 
religion and morals agreeable to those attributes by which 
only we form a conception of his essence. If then they 
teach us any absurdities, if they inspire us with the senti 
ments of aversion for our fellow-creatures and fear for 
ourselves ; if they describe the Deity as a vindictive, partial, 
jealous and angry being; as a God of war and of battles, 
always ready to thunder and destroy; always threatening 
slaughter and revenge, and even boasting of punishing 
the innocent, my heart cannot be incited to love so terrible a 
Deity, and I shall take care how I give up my natural 
religion to embrace such doctrines. 

I should say to the advocates and professors of such a 
religion : 

"Your God is not mine! A Being who began his dis 
pensations with partiality, selecting one people and proscrib 
ing the rest of mankind, is not the common father of the 
human race ; a Being who destines to eternal punishment the 
greater part of his creatures, is not that good and merciful 
God who is pointed out by my reason/ 

With regard to articles of faith, my reason tells me they 
should be clear, perspicuous, and evident. If natural religion 
be insufficient, it is owing to the obscurity in which it neces 
sarily leaves those sublime truths it professes to teach. It 
is the business of revelation to exhibit them to the mind in a 
more clear and sensible manner; to adapt them to our un 
derstanding, and to enable us to conceive, in order that we 
may be capable of believing them. True faith is assured 
and confirmed by the understanding. The best of all relig 
ions is undoubtedly the clearest. That which is clouded 
with mysteries and contradictions, the worship that is to be 
taught me by preaching, teaches me by that very circum 
stance to distrust it. The God whom I adore is not a God 
of darkness; he hath not given me an understanding to for 
bid me the use of it. To bid me give up my reason, is to 
insult the author of it. The minister of truth doth not 
tyrannize over my understanding, he enlightens it. 

We have set aside all human authority, and without it, 
I cannot see how one man can convince another by preach- 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 299 

ing to him an unreasonable doctrine. Let us suppose two 
persons engaged in a dispute on this head, and see how they 
will express themselves in the language generally made use 
of on such occasions. 

DOGMATIST. Your reason tells you that the whole is 
greater than a part, but I tell you from God, that a part is 
greater than the whole. 

RATIONALIST. And who are you, that dare to tell me God 
contradicts himself? In whom shall I rather believe; in 
him who instructs me in the knowledge of eternal truths by 
means of reason, or in you who in his name would impose 
on me the greatest absurdities? 

DOGMATIST. In me, for my instructions are more positive, 
and I will prove to you incontestably that he hath sent me. 

RATIONALIST. How ! will you prove that God hath sent 
you to depose against himself? What sort of proofs can 
you bring to convince me it is more certain that God speaks 
by your mouth, than by the understanding he hath given me ? 

DOGMATIST. The understanding he hath given you! 
Ridiculous and contemptible man ! You talk as if you were 
the first infidel who was ever misled by an understanding 
depraved by sin. 

RATIONALIST. Nor may you, man of God ! be the first 
knave whose impudence hath been the only proof he could 
give of his divine mission. 

DOGMATIST. How! can Philosophers be thus abusive? 

RATIONALIST. Sometimes, when Saints set them the ex 
ample. 

DOGMATIST. Oh! but I am authorized to abuse you. I 
speak on the part of God Almighty. 

RATIONALIST. It would not be improper, however, to 
produce your credentials before you assume your privileges. 

DOGMATIST. My credentials are sufficiently authenticated. 
Both heaven and earth are witnesses in my favor. Attend, 
I pray you, to my arguments. 

RATIONALIST. Arguments ! why, you surely do not pre 
tend to any ! To tell me that my reason is fallacious, is to 
refute whatever it may say in your favor. Whoever refuses 
to abide by the dictates of reason, ought to be able to con 
vince without making use of it. For, supposing that in the 



300 ROUSSEAU 

course of your arguments you should convince me, how 
shall I know whether it be not through the fallacy of reason 
depraved by sin, that I acquiesce in what you affirm? Be 
sides, what proof, what demonstration, can you ever employ 
more evident than the axiom which destroys it? It is fully 
as credible that a just syllogism should be false, as that a 
part is greater than the whole. 

DOGMATIST. What a difference ! My proofs admit of no 
reply; they are of a supernatural kind. 

RATIONALIST. Supernatural ! What is the meaning of 
that term? I do not understand it? 

DOGMATIST. Contraventions of the order of nature ; 
prophecies, miracles, and prodigies of every kind. 

RATIONALIST. Prodigies and miracles ! I have never seen 
any of these things. 

DOGMATIST. No matter; others have seen them for you. 
We can bring clouds of witnesses the testimony of whole 
nations 

RATIONALIST. The testimony of whole nations ! Is that 
a proof of the supernatural kind? 

DOGMATIST. No ! But when it is unanimous it is incon 
testable. 

RATIONALIST. There is nothing more incontestable than 
the dictates of reason, nor can the testimony of all mankind 
prove the truth of an absurdity. Let us see some of your 
supernatural truths then, as the attestation of men is not so. 

DOGMATIST. Infidel wretch ! It is plain that the grace of 
God doth not speak to thy understanding. 

RATIONALIST. Whose fault is that? Not mine; for, ac 
cording to you, it is necessary to be enlightened by grace to 
know how to ask for it. Begin then, and speak to me in its 
stead. 

DOGMATIST. Is not this what I am doing? But you will 
not hear. What do you say to prophecies? 

. RATIONALIST. As to prophecies ; I say, in the first place, 
I have heard as few of them as I have seen miracles; and 
in the second, I say that no prophecy bears any weight with 
me. 

DOGMATIST. Thou disciple of Satan ! And why have 
prophecies no weight with you? 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 301 

RATIONALIST. Because, to give them such weight requires 
three things, the concurrence of which is impossible. These 
are, that I should in the first place be a witness to the delivery 
of the prophecy; next, that I should be witness also to the 
event ; lastly, that it should be clearly demonstrated to me that 
such event could not have occurred by accident. For, though 
a prophecy were as precise, clear, and determinate as an 
axiom of geometry, yet as the perspicuity of a prediction 
made at random does not render the accomplishment of it 
impossible, that accomplishment when it happens proves 
nothing in fact concerning the fore-knowledge of him who 
predicted it. You see, therefore, to what your pretended 
supernatural proofs, your miracles, and your prophecies re 
duce us : to the folly of believing them all on the credit 
of others, and of submitting the authority of God speaking 
to our reason, to that of man. If those eternal truths, of 
which my understanding forms the strongest conception, can 
possibly be false, I can have no hope of ever arriving at 
certitude; and so far from being capable of being assured 
that you speak to me from God, I cannot even be assured of 
his existence. 

You see, my child, how many difficulties must be re 
moved before our disputants can agree; nor are these all. 
Among so many different religions, each of which proscribes 
and excludes the other, one only can be true; if, indeed, 
there be such a one among them -all. Now, to discover which 
this is, it is not enough to examine that one ; it is necessary 
to examine them all, as we should not, on any occasion 
whatever, condemn without a hearing. It is necessary to 
compare objections with proofs, and to know what each 
objects to in the others, as well as what the others have to 
say in their defence. The more clearly any sentiment or 
opinion appears demonstrated, the more narrowly it be 
hooves us to inquire, what are the reasons which prevent 
its opponents from subscribing to it? 

We must be very simple indeed, to think that an attention 
to the theologists of our own party sufficient to instruct us in 
what our adversaries have to offer. Where shall we find 
divines, of any persuasion, perfectly candid and honest ? Do 



302 ROUSSEAU 



they not all begin to weaken the arguments of their oppo 
nents before they proceed to refute them? Each is the 
oracle of his party, and makes a great figure among his own 
partisans, with such proofs as would expose him to ridicule 
among those of a different persuasion. 

Are you desirous of gaining information from books? 
What a fund of erudition will not this require ! How many 
languages must you learn! How many libraries must you 
turn over! And who is to direct you in the choice of the 
books? There are hardly to be found in any one country 
the best books on the contrary side of the question, and still 
less is it to be expected that we should find books on all 
sides. The writings of the adverse and absent party, were 
they found also, would be very easily refuted. The absent 
are always in the wrong; and the most weak and insufficient 
arguments laid down with a confident assurance, easily efface 
the most sensible and valid, when exposed with contempt. 
Add to all this, that nothing is more fallacious than books, 
nor exhibit less faithfully the sentiments of their writers. 
The judgment which you formed, for instance, of the Roman 
Catholic religion, from the treatise of Bossuet, was very 
different from that which you acquired by residing among us. 
You have seen that the doctrines we maintain in our contro 
versies with the Protestants, are not those which are taught 
the common people; and that Bossuet s book by no means 
resembles the instructions delivered from the pulpit. 

To form a proper judgment of any religion, we are not to 
deduce its tenets from the books of its professors; we must 
go and learn it among the people. Each sect have their 
peculiar traditions, their customs, prejudices, and modes 
of acceptation, which constitute the peculiar mode of their 
faith. This should all be taken into consideration when we 
form a judgment of their religion. 

How many considerable nations are there who print no 
books of their own, and read none of ours? How are they 
to judge of our opinions, or we of theirs? We laugh at 
them they despise us ; and though our travellers have turned 
them into ridicule, they need only to travel among us, to 
ridicule us in their turn. In what country are there not to 
be found men of sense and sincerity, friends of humanity, 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 303 






who require only to know truth, in order to embrace it? 
And yet every one imagines that truth is confined to his own 
particular system, and thinks that the religion of all other 
nations in the world is absurd. These foreign modes, there 
fore, cannot be in reality so very absurd as they appear, or 
the apparent reasonableness of ours is less real. 

We have three principal religions in Europe. One admits 
only of one revelation, another of two, and the third of 
three. Each holds the other in detestation, anathematizes 
its possessors, accuses them of ignorance, obstinacy, and 
falsehood. What impartial person will presume to decide 
between them, without having first examined their proofs 
and heard their reasons? That which admits only of one 
revelation is the most ancient and seems the least disputable ; 
that which admits of three is the most modern and seems 
to be the most consistent; that which admits of two and 
rejects the third, may possibly be the best, but it hath cer 
tainly every prepossession against it its inconsistency stares 
one full in the face. 

In all these three revelations, the sacred books are written 
in languages unknown to the people who believe in them. 
The Jews no longer understand Hebrew; the Christians 
neither Greek nor Hebrew ; the Turks and Persians under 
stand no Arabic, and even the modern Arabs themselves 
speak not the language of Mahomet. Is not this a very 
simple manner of instructing mankind, by talking to them 
always in a language which they do not comprehend? But 
these books, it will be said, are translated; a most unsatis 
factory answer, indeed ! Who can assure me that they are 
translated faithfully, or that it is even possible they should 
be so ? Who can give me a sufficient reason why God, when 
he hath a mind to speak to mankind, should stand in need 
of an interpreter? 

I can never conceive that what every man is indispensably 
obliged to know can be shut up in these books ; or that he 
who is incapacitated to understand them, or the persons who 
explain them, will be punished for involuntary ignorance. 
But we are always plaguing ourselves with books. What a 
frenzy! Because Europe is full of books, the Europeans 
conceive them to be indispensable, without reflecting that 



304 ROUSSEAU 

three-fourths of the world know nothing at all about them. 
Are not all books written by men? How greatly, therefore, 
must man have stood in need of them, to instruct him in his 
duty, and by what means did he come to the knowledge of 
such duties, before books were written? Either he must 
have acquired such knowledge of himself, or it must have 
been totally dispensed with. 

We, Roman Catholics, make a great noise about the 
authority of the church: but what do we gain by it, if it 
requires as many proofs to establish this authority as other 
sects also require to establish their doctrines? The church 
determines that the church has a right to determine. Is not 
this a special proof of its authority? And yet, depart from 
this, and we enter into endless discussions. 

Do you know many Christians who have taken the pains 
to examine carefully into what the Jews have alleged against 
us? If there are a few who know something of them, it is 
from what they have met with in the writings of Christians : 
a very strange manner indeed of instructing themselves in 
the arguments of their opponents! But what can be done? 
If any one should dare to publish among us such books as 
openly espouse the cause of Judaism, we should punish the 
author, the editor, and the bookseller. 5 This policy is very 
convenient, and very sure to make us always in the right. 
We can refute at pleasure those who are afraid to speak. 

Those among us, also, who have an opportunity to con 
verse with the Jews, have but little advantage. These un 
happy people know that they are at our mercy. The tyranny 
we exercise over them, renders them justly timid and re 
served. They know how far cruelty and injustice are com 
patible with Christian charity. What, therefore, can they 
venture to say to us, without running the risk of incurring 
the charge of blasphemy? Avarice inspires us with zeal, 
and they are too rich not to be ever in the wrong. The most 
sensible and learned among them are the most circumspect 

5 Among a thousand known instances, the following stands in no need of 
comment: the Catholic divines of the sixteenth century having condemned 
all the Jewish books without exception to be burnt, a learned and illustrious 
theologue, who was consulted on that occasion, had very nearly involved 
himself in ruin by being simply of the opinion that such of them might 
be preserved as did not relate to Christianity, or treated of matters for 
eign to religion. 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 



305 



and reserved. We make a convert, perhaps, of some wretched 
hireling, to calumniate his sect; we set a parcel of pitiful 
brokers disputing, who give up the point merely to gratify 
us; but while we triumph over the ignorance or meanness of 
such wretched opponents, the learned among them smile in 
contemptuous silence at our folly. But do you think that 
in places where they might write and speak securely, we 
should have so much the advantage of them? Among the 
doctors of the Sorbonne, it is as clear as daylight, that the 
predictions concerning the Messiah relate to Jesus Christ. 
Among the Rabbins at Amsterdam, it is just as evident that 
they have no relation whatever to him. I shall never believe 
that I have acquired a sufficient acquaintance with the argu 
ments of the Jews, till they compose a free and independent 
State, and have their schools and universities, where they 
may talk and dispute with freedom and impunity. Till then 
we can never really know what arguments they have to offer. 
At Constantinople, the Turks make known their reasons, 
and we dare not publish ours. There it is our turn to sub 
mit. If the Turks require us to pay to Mahomet, in whom 
we do not believe, the same respect which we require the 
Jews to pay to Jesus Christ, in whom they believe as little, 
can the Turks be in the wrong and we in the right? 
what principle of equity can we resolve that question n 
own favor? 

Two-thirds of mankind are neither Jews, Christians, nor 
Mahometans. How many millions of men, therefore, must 
there be who never heard of Moses, of Jesus Christ, or c 
Mahomet? Will this be denied? Will it be said that our 
missionaries are dispersed over the face of the whole earth? 
This indeed, is easily affirmed; but are there any of them 
in the interior parts of Africa, where no European hath ever 
yet penetrated? Do they travel through the inland parts of 
Tartary or follow on horseback the wandering hordes, whom 
no stranger ever approaches, and who, so far from having 
heard of the Pope, hardly know any thing of their own 
Grand Lama? Do our missionaries traverse the immense 
continent of America, where there are whole nations stil 
ignorant that the people of another world have set foot on 
theirs? Are there any missionaries in Japan, from when 



306 ROUSSEAU 

their ill-behavior hath banished them forever, and where the 
fame of their predecessors is transmitted to succeeding 
generations as that of artful knaves, who, under cover of a 
religious zeal, wanted to make themselves gradually masters 
of ^the empire ? Do they penetrate into the harems of the 
Asiatic princes, to preach the gospel to millions of wretched 
slaves? What will become of these secluded women for 
want of a missionary to preach to them this gospel? Must 
every one of them go to hell for being a recluse? 

But were it true that the gospel is preached in every part 
of the earth, the difficulty is not removed. On the eve pre 
ceding the arrival of the first missionary in any country, 
some one person of that country expired without hearing 
the glad tidings. Now what must we do with this one per 
son? If there be but a single individual in the whole uni 
verse, to whom the gospel of Christ is not made known, the 
objection which presents itself on account of this one person, 
is as cogent as if it included a fourth part of the human 
race. 

Again, supposing that the ministers of the gospel are 
actually present and preaching in those distant nations, how 
can they reasonably hope to be believed on their own word, 
and expect that their hearers will not scrupulously require 
a confirmation of what is taught? Might not any one of 
them very reasonably say to these preachers : 

" You tell me of a God who was born and put to death 
nearly two thousand years ago, in another portion of the 
world, and in I know not what obscure town; assuring me 
that all those who do not believe in this mysterious tale are 
damned. 

" These are things too strange to be readily credited on 
the sole authority of a man who is himself a perfect stranger. 
" Why hath your God brought those events to pass, of which 
he requires me to be instructed, at so great a distance? Is 
it a crime to be ignorant of what passes at the antipodes? 
Is it possible for me to divine that there existed in the other 
hemisphere a people called Jews, and a city called Jerusalem? 
I might as well be required to know what happens in the 
moon. 

" You are come, you say, to inform me ; but why did you 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 307 

not come soon enough to inform my father, or why do you 
damn that innocent man because he knew nothing of the 
matter? Must he be eternally punished for your delay; he 
who was so just, so benevolent, and so desirous of knowing 
the truth? 

"Be honest, and suppose yourself in my place. Do you 
think that I can believe, upon your testimony alone, all these 
incredible things you tell me, or that I can reconcile so much 
injustice with the character of that just God, whom you 
pretend to make known? 

" Let me first, I pray you, go and see this distant country 
where so many miracles have happened that are totally un 
known here. Let me go and be well informed why the in 
habitants of that Jerusalem you speak of presumed to treat 
God like a thief or a murderer. 

"They did not, you will say, acknowledge his divinity. 
How then can I, who never have heard of him but from you? 

" You add, that they were punished, dispersed, and led into 
captivity ; not one of them ever approaching their former 

city. 

"Assuredly, they deserved all this: but its present inhab 
itants, what say they of the unbelief and Deicide of their 
predecessors? Do they not deny it, and acknowledge the 
divinity of the sacred personage just as little as did its an 
cient inhabitants? 

" What I in the same city in which your God was put to 
death, neither the ancient nor present inhabitants acknowl 
edge his divinity! And yet you would have me believe it, 
who was born nearly two thousand years after the event, 
and two thousand leagues distant from the place 1 

" Do you not see that, before I can give credit to this book, 
which you call sacred and of which I comprehend nothing, 
I ought to be informed from others as to when and by whom 
it was written ; how it hath been preserved and transmitted 
to you ; what is said of it in the country where it originated ; 
and what are the reasons of those who reject it, although 
they know as well as you every thing of which you have 
informed me? You must perceive, therefore, the necessity 
I am under of going first to Europe, then to Asia, and lastly 
into Palestine to investigate and examine this subject for 



308 ROUSSEAU 

myself, and that I must be an absolute idiot to even listen to 
you before I have completed this investigation." 

Such a discourse as this appears to me not only very 
reasonable, but I affirm that every sensible man ought under 
such circumstances to speak in the same manner, and to send 
a missionary about his business, who should be in haste to 
instruct and baptize him before he had sufficiently verified 
the proofs of his mission. 

Now, I maintain that there is no revelation against which 
the same objections might not be made, and that with even 
greater force than against Christianity. Hence it follows 
that if there be in the world but one true religion, and if 
every one is obliged to adopt it under pain of damnation, it 
is necessary to spend our lives in the study of all religions, 
to visit the countries where they have been established, 
and examine and compare them with each other. No 
man is exempted from the principal duty of his species, and 
no one hath a right to confide in the judgment of another. 
The artisan who lives only by his industry, the husbandman 
who cannot read, the timid and delicate virgin, the feeble 
valetudinarian, all must, without exception, study, meditate, 
dispute, and travel the world over in search of truth. There 
would no longer be any settled inhabitants in a country, the 
face of the earth being covered with pilgrims going from 
place to place, at great trouble and expense, to verify, ex 
amine, and compare the several different systems and modes 
of worship to be met with in different countries. 

We must in such a case bid adieu to the arts and sciences, 
to trade, and to all the civil occupations of life. Every other 
study must give place to that of religion; while the man 
who should enjoy the greatest share of health and strength, 
and make the best use of his time and reason for the longest 
term of years allotted to human life, would, in his extreme 
old age, be still perplexed and undecided; and it would be 
indeed wonderful if, after all his researches, he should 
be able to learn before his death what religion he ought to 
have believed and practiced during his life. 

Do you endeavor to mitigate the severity of this method, 
and place as little confidence as possible in the authority of 
your fellow men? In so doing, however, you place in them 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 309 

the greatest confidence: for if the son of a Christian does 
right in adopting, without a scrupulous and impartial ex 
amination, the religion of his father, how can the son of a 
Turk do wrong in adopting in the same manner the religion 
of Mahomet? 

I defy all the persecutors in the world to answer this ques 
tion in a manner satisfactory to any person of common 
sense. Nay, some of them, when hard pressed by such ar 
guments, will sooner admit that God is unjust, and visits the 
sins of the fathers upon the children, than give up their 
cruel and persecuting principles. Others, indeed, strive to 
elude the force of these reasons by civilly sending an angel 
to instruct those who, under absolute ignorance, lived, never 
theless, good moral lives. A very pretty device, truly, is 
that of the angel ! Not contented with subjecting us to 
this angelic hierarchy, they would reduce even the Diety 
himself to the necessity of employing it. 

See, my son, to what absurdities we are led by pride, and 
the spirit of persecution, by being puffed up with our own 
vanity, and conceiving that we possess a greater share of 
reason than the rest of mankind. 

I call to witness that God of peace whom I adore, and 
whom I would make known to you, that my researches have 
been always sincere; but seeing that they were and always 
must be unsuccessful, and that I was launched out into a 
boundless ocean of perplexity, I returned the way I came, 
and confined my creed within the limits of my first notions. 
I could never believe that God required me, under pain of 
eternal damnation, to be so very learned; and, therefore, I 
shut up all my books. 

The book of nature lies open to every eye. It is from this 
sublime and wonderful volume that I learn to serve and 
adore its Divine Author. No person is excusable for neg 
lecting to read this book, as it is written in an universal 
language, intelligible to all mankind. 

Had I been born on a desert island, or had never seen a 
human creature beside myself; had I never been informed 
of what had formerly happened in a certain corner of the 
world; I might yet have learned, by the exercise and culti 
vation of my reason, and by the proper use of those faculties 



310 ROUSSEAU 

God hath given me, to know and to love him. I might 
hence have learned to love and admire his power and good 
ness, and to have properly discharged my duty here on 
earth. What can the knowledge of the learned teach me 
more? 

With regard to revelation: could I reason better or were 
I better informed, I might be made sensible perhaps of its 
truth and of its utility to those who are so happy as to be 
lieve it. But if there are some proofs in its favor which I 
cannot invalidate, there appear also to me many objections 
against it which I cannot resolve. There are so many rea 
sons both for and against its authority that, not knowing 
what to conclude, I neither admit nor reject it. I reject only 
the obligation of submitting to it, because this pretended 
obligation is incompatible with the justice of God, and that, 
so far from its removing the obstacles to salvation, it raises 
those which are insurmountable by the greater part of man 
kind. Except in this article, therefore, I remain respectfully 
in doubt concerning the scriptures. I have not the pre 
sumption to think myself infallible. More able persons may 
possibly determine in cases that to me appear undetermina 
ble. I reason for myself, not for them. I neither censure 
nor imitate them. Their judgment may possibly be better 
than mine, but am I to blame that it is not mine? 

I will confess to you further, that the majesty of the scrip 
tures strikes me with admiration, as the purity of the gospel 
hath its influence on my heart. Peruse the works of our 
philosophers, enriched with all their pomp of diction: how 
mean, how contemptible are they, compared with the scrip 
tures ! Is it possible that a book at once so simple and sub 
lime should be merely the work of man? Is it possible that 
the sacred personage, whose history it contains, should be 
himself a mere man? Do we find that he assumed the tone 
of an enthusiast or ambitious sectary? What purity, what 
sweetness in his manners! What an affecting gracefulness 
in his delivery ! What sublimity in his maxims ! What 
profound wisdom in his discourses ! What presence of 
mind, what subtilty, what truth in his replies ! How great 
the command over his passions ! Where is the man, where 
the philosopher who could so live and so die, without weak- 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 



311 



ness and without ostentation? When Plato described an 
imaginary good man 8 loaded with all the shame of guilt, 
yet meriting the highest reward of virtue, he describes ex 
actly the character of Jesus. The resemblance was so strik 
ing that all the fathers perceived it. What prepossession, 
what blindness must it be to compare the son of Sophroniscus 
to the son of Mary? What an infinite disproportion is there 
between them ! Socrates, dying without pain or ignominy, 
easily supported his character to the last; and if his death, 
however easy, had not crowned his life, it might have been 
doubted whether Socrates, with all his wisdom, was any 
thing more than a vain sophist. He invented, it is said, the 
theory of morals. Others, however, had already put them 
in practice; he had only to say what they had done, and 
reduce their examples to precepts. Aristides had been just, 
before Socrates defined justice. Leonidas gave up his life 
for his country before Socrates declared patriotism to be a 
duty. The Spartans were a sober people before Socrates 
recommended sobriety. Before he had even defined virtue, 
Greece abounded in virtuous men. But where could Jesus 
learn, among his compatriots, that pure and sublime morality 
of which he only hath given us both precept and example? 7 
The greatest wisdom was made known amidst the most 
bigoted fanaticism; and the simplicity of the most heroic 
virtues did honor to the vilest people on the earth. The 
death of Socrates, peaceably philosophizing with his friends, 
appears the most agreeable form that could be desired; 
that of Jesus, expiring in the midst of agonizing pains, 
abused, insulted, cursed by a whole nation, is the most hor 
rible that could be feared. Socrates, in receiving the cup of 
poison, blessed indeed the weeping executioner who admin 
istered it; but Jesus, in the midst of excruciating tortures, 
prayed for his merciless tormentors. Yes, if the life and 
death of Socrates are those of a sage, the life and death of 
Jesus are those of a God. 

Shall we suppose the evangelic history a mere fiction? 
Indeed, my friend, it bears not the marks of fiction. On 
the contrary, the history of Socrates, which nobody pre- 

* See in P his a discourse on the Mount the parallel he makes between the 
morality of Moses and his own. Matthew v. 21, &c. 



312 ROUSSEAU 

sumes to doubt, is not so well attested as that of Jesus Christ. 
Such a supposition, in fact, only shifts the difficulty without 
removing it. It is more inconceivable that a number of 
persons should agree to write such a history than that one 
only should furnish the subject of it. The Jewish authors 
were incapable of the diction, and were strangers to the 
morality contained in the gospel, the marks of whose truth 
are so striking and inimitable, that the inventor would be a 
more astonishing character than the hero. And yet, with 
all this, the same gospel abounds with incredible relations, 
with circumstances repugnant to reason, and which it is im 
possible for a man of sense either to conceive of or to admit. 
What is to be done amidst all these contradictions? Be 
modest and circumspect. Regard in silence what cannot be 
either disproved or comprehended, and humble thyself before 
the Supreme Being who alone knoweth the truth. 

Such is the involuntary skepticism in which I remain. 
This skepticism, however, is not painful to me, because it 
extends not to any essential point of practice; and as my 
mind is firmly settled regarding the principles of my duty, 
I serve God in the sincerity of my heart. In the mean time, 
I seek not to know any thing more than what relates to my 
moral conduct; and as to those dogmas which have no in 
fluence over the behavior, and about which so many persons 
give themselves so much trouble, I am not at all solicitous. 
I look upon the various particular religions as so many 
salutary institutions, prescribing in different countries an 
uniform manner of public worship; and which may all have 
their respective reasons, peculiar to the climate, government, 
or laws of the people adopting them, or some other motive 
which renders the one preferable .to the other according to 
the circumstance of time and place. I believe all that are 
established to be good when God is served in sincerity of 
heart. This service is all that is essential. He rejects not 
the homage of the sincere, under whatsoever form they 
present it. Being called to the service of the church, I 
comply, therefore, with a scrupulous exactness, to all the 
forms it prescribes in my duty, and should reproach myself 
for the least wilful neglect of them. After having lain un- 



A SAVOYARD VICAR 313 

der a long prohibition I obtained, through the interest of 
M. de Mellerade, a permission to re-assume the functions of 
the priesthood, to procure me a livelihood. I had been 
accustomed formerly to say mass with all that levity and 
carelessness with which we perform the most serious and 
important offices after having very often repeated them. 
Since I entertained my new principles, however, I celebrate 
it with greater veneration: penetrated by reflecting on the 
majesty of the Supreme Being, and the insufficiency of the 
human mind that is so little able to form conceptions rela 
tive to its author, I consider that I offer up the prayers of 
a people under a prescribed form of worship, and therefore 
carefully observe all its rites. I recite carefully; and strive 
not to omit the least word or ceremony. Before going to 
communicate, I first recollect myself, in order to do it with 
all those dispositions that the church and the importance of 
the sacrament require. I endeavor on this occasion to 
silence the voice of reason before the Supreme Intelligence. 
I say to myself: who art thou, to presume to set bounds to 
omnipotence? I reverently pronounce the sacramental 
words, and annex to them all the faith that depends on me. 
Whatever, therefore, be the truth with regard to that in 
conceivable mystery, I am not fearful of being charged at 
the day of judgment with profaning it in my heart. 

Honored with the ministerial office, though of the lowest 
rank, I will never do or say any thing that may make me 
unworthy to fulfill its sacred functions. I will always in 
culcate virtue, exhort my auditors to pursue it, and as far 
as it is in my power, set them an example. It does not de 
pend on me to make their religion amiable, nor to confine 
the articles of their faith to what is necessary for all to 
believe: but God forbid that I should ever preach up the 
cruel tenets of persecution, that I should even induce them 
to hate their neighbors, or to consign others to damnation. 8 
Were I, indeed, in a superior station, this reserve might 
incur censure; but I am too insignificant to have much to 

8 The duty of adopting and respecting the religion of our country does not 
extend to such tenets as are contrary to moral virtue; such as that of per 
secution. It is this horrible dogma which arms mankind inhumanly against 
each other, and renders them destructive to the human race. The distinction 
between political and theological toleration is puerile and ridiculous, as they 
are inseparable, so that one cannot be admitted without the other. 



314 ROUSSEAU 

fear, and I can never fall lower than I am. But whatever 
may happen, I shall never blaspheme Divine Justice, nor lie 
against the Spirit of Truth. 

I have long been ambitious of the honor of being a pastor. 
1 am indeed still ambitious, though I have no longer 
any hopes of it. There is no character in the world, my 
good friend, which appears to me so desirable as that of 
a pastor. A good pastor is a minister of goodness, as a 
good magistrate is a minister of justice. A pastor can 
have no temptation to evil; and though he may not al 
ways have it in his power to do good himself, he is really 
doing his duty when soliciting it of others, and very often 
obtains it when he learns to make himself truly worthy 
of respect. 

O that I enjoyed but some little benefice among the poor 
people in our mountains! How happy should I then feel! 
for I cannot but think that I should make my parishioners 
happy ! I should never, indeed, make them rich, but I 
should cheerfully partake of their poverty. I would raise 
them above meanness and contempt, more insupportable 
than indigence itself. I would induce them to love concord, 
and to cherish that equality which often banishes poverty, 
and always renders it more supportable. When they should 
see that I was no richer than themselves, and yet lived con 
tent, they would learn to console themselves under their lot, 
and to live contented also. 

In the instructions I should give them, I should be less 
directed by the sense of the church than by that of the gos 
pel; whose tenets are more simple, and whose morals are 
more sublime; that teaches few religious forms and many 
deeds of charity. 

Before I should teach them their duty, I should always 
endeavor to practice it myself, in order to let them see that 
I really thought as I spoke. 

Had I any protestants in my neighborhood, or in my 
parish, I would make no distinction between them and my 
own flock, in every thing that regarded acts of Christian 
charity. I would endeavor to make them all love and re 
gard each other as brethren tolerating all religions, and 
peacefully enjoying their own. 



THE SAVOYARD VICAR 315 

Thus, my young friend, have I given you with my own 
lips a recital of my creed, such as the Supreme Being reads 
it in my heart. You are the first person to whom I have 
made this Profession of Faith; and you are the only one, 
probably, to whom I shall ever make it. * * * * 

If I were more positive in myself, I should have assumed 
a more positive and dogmatic air; but I am a man ignorant 
and subject to error. I have opened to you my heart with 
out reserve. What I have thought certain, I have given 
you ^as such. My doubts I have declared as doubts; my 
opinions as opinions; and I have honestly given you my 
reasons for both. What can I do more? It remains now 
for you to judge. Be sincere with yourself. Whether men 
love or hate, admire or despise you, is of but little moment. 
Speak only what is true, do only what is right; for, after 
all, the object of greatest importance is to faithfully dis 
charge our duty. Adopt only those of my sentiments which 
you believe are true, and reject all the others; and what 
ever religion you may ultimately embrace, remember that 
its real duties are independent of human institutions that 
no religion upon earth can dispense with the sacred obliga 
tions of morality that an upright heart is the temple of the 
Divinity and that, in every country and in every sect, to 
love God above all things, and thy neighbor as thyself, is 
the substance and summary of the law the end and aim of 
religious duty. 



OF MAN, 

BEING THE FIRST PART OF LEVIATHAN 



BY 

THOMAS HOBBES 



INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

THOMAS HOBBES was born at Westport, now part of Malmes- 
bury, in Wiltshire, England, April 5, 1588. His father was a 
clergyman of the Church of England, and he was educated at 
Magdalen Hall, Oxford, whence he graduated in 1608. From this 
time till 1640 he was, with a short break, a member of the house 
hold of the Earls of Devonshire, acting as tutor and secretary, 
and traveling on several occasions on the Continent as companion 
to the second and later to the third Earl. He made the acquaint 
ance of many of the leading philosophers and scientists of the 
Continent, including Descartes, Gassendi, and Galileo. He is also 
reported to have acted for a time as amanuensis to Bacon. 

On the meeting of the Long Parliament Hobbes fled to Paris, 
afraid of zvhat might happen to him on account of opinions ex 
pressed in certain philosophical treatises which had been circu 
lated in manuscript. While abroad he published his "De Cive," 
containing the political theories later embodied in his "Leviathan." 
In 1646 he was appointed mathematical tutor to the future king, 
Charles II; but after the publication of the "Leviathan" in 1651, 
he was excluded from the court, and returned to England. 

The rest of Hobbes s life was spent largely in controversy, in 
which especially in mathematical matters he had by no means 
always the best of the argument. He lived in fear of prosecu 
tion for heresy, but was saved by the protection of the king. He 
died December 4, 1679. 

Hobbes s writings produced much commotion in his own day, 
but his opponents were more conspicuous than his disciples. Yet 
he exerted a notable influence on such thinkers as Spinoza, Leib 
niz, Diderot, and Rousseau; and the utilitarian movement led to 
a revival of interest in his philosophy in the nineteenth century. 
He was a fearless if one-sided thinker, and he presented his views 
in a style of great vigor and clearness. "A great partisan by 
nature," says his most recent critic, <f Hobbes became by the sheer 
force of his fierce, concentrated intellect a master builder in phi 
losophy. . . . He hated error, and therefore, to confute it, he 
shouldered his way into the very sanctuary of truth" 



318 



INTRODUCTION 

NATURE, the art whereby God hath made and governs the world, 
is by the art of man, as in many other things, so in this also 
imitated, that it can make an artificial animal. For seeing life 
is but a motion of limbs, the beginning whereof is in some prin 
cipal part within; why may we not say, that all automata 
(engines that move themselves by springs and wheels as doth a 
watch) have an artificial life? For what is the heart but a 
spring ; and the nerves but so many strings ; and the 
joints but so many wheels, giving motion to the whole body, 
such as was intended by the artificer? Art goes yet further, 
imitating that rational and most excellent work of nature, man. 
For by art is created that great Leviathan called a Common 
wealth or State, in Latin civitas, which is but an artificial man, 
though of greater stature and strength than the natural, for 
whose protection and defence it was intended; and in which the 
sovereignty is an artificial soul, as giving life and motion to 
the whole body; the magistrates and other officers of judica 
ture and execution, artificial joints ; reward and punishment, 
by which fastened to the seat of the sovereignty every joint and 
member is moved to perform his duty, are the nerves, that do 
the same in the body natural ; the wealth and riches of all 
the particular members are the strength ; salus populi, the peo 
ple s safety, its business ; counsellors, by whom all things 
needful for it to know are suggested unto it, are the memory ; 
equity and laws/ an artificial reason and will ; concord/ 
health ; sedition/ sickness ; and civil war/ death/ Lastly, 
the pacts and covenants/ by which the parts of this body 
politic were at first made, set together, and united, resemble that 
fiat/ or the let us make man/ pronounced by God in the 
creation. 

To describe the nature of this artificial man, I will consider : 
First, the matter thereof, and the artificer, both which 
is man. 

319 



320 INTRODUCTION 

Secondly, how, and by what covenants it is made ; what 
are the rights and just power or authority of a sovereign, 
and what it is that preserveth or dissolveth it. 

Thirdly, what is a Christian commonwealth. 

Lastly, what is the kingdom of darkness. 

Concerning the first, there is a saying much usurped of late 
that wisdom is acquired, not by reading of books but of 
men. Consequently whereunto, those persons that for the most 
part can give no other proof of being wise take great delight to 
show what they think they have read in men, by uncharitable 
censures of one another behind their backs. But there is another 
saying not of late understood, by which they might learn truly to 
read one another, if they would take the pains; that is, nosce 
teipsum, read thyself : which was not meant, as it is now used, 
to countenance, either the barbarous state of men in power 
towards their inferiors, or to encourage men of low degree to a 
saucy behaviour towards their betters; but to teach us that for 
the similitude of the thoughts and passions of one man to the 
thoughts and passions of another, whosoever looketh into himself 
and considereth what he doth, when he does think, opine/ rea 
son, hope, fear, etc., and upon what grounds ; he shall thereby 
read and know what are the thoughts and passions of all other 
men upon the like occasions. I say the similitude of passions, 
which are the same in all men, desire, fear, hope, etc. ; not the 
similitude of the objects of the passions, which are the things 
desired, feared, hoped, etc. : for these the constitution indi 
vidual, and particular education, do so vary, and they are so easy 
to be kept from our knowledge, that the characters of man s 
heart, blotted and confounded as they are with dissembling, lying, 
counterfeiting, and erroneous doctrines, are legible only to Him 
that searcheth hearts. And though by men s actions we do dis 
cover their design sometimes, yet to do it without comparing 
them with our own, and distinguishing all circumstances, by 
which the case may come to be altered, is to decipher without a 
key, and be for the most part deceived, by too much trust or by 
too much diffidence; as he that reads is himself a good or evil 
man. 

But let one man read another by his actions never so perfectly, 
it serves him only with his acquaintance, which are but few. He 
that is to govern a whole nation must read in himself, not this or 



INTRODUCTION 321 

that particular man, but mankind: which, though it be hard to 
do, harder than to learn any language or science, yet, when I 
shall have set down my own reading orderly and perspicuously, 
the pains left another will be only to consider if he also find 
not the same in himself. For this kind of doctrine admitteth no 
other demonstration. 



W HC xxxrv 



OF MAN, 

BEING THE FIRST PART OF LEVIATHAN 

CHAPTER I 
OF SENSE 

CONCERNING the thoughts of man, I will consider 
them first singly, and afterwards in train, or 
dependence upon one another. Singly, they are 
every one a representation or appearance of some 
quality, or other accident of a body without us, which is 
commonly called an object. Which object worketh on the 
eyes, ears, and other parts of a man s body, and, by diversity 
of working, produceth diversity of appearances. 

The original of them all is that which we call sense/ 
for there is no conception in a man s mind which hath not 
at first, totally or by parts, been begotten upon the organs 
of sense. The rest are derived from that original. 

To know the natural cause of sense is not very necessary 
to the business now in hand; and I have elsewhere written 
of the same at large. Nevertheless, to fill each part of 
my present method I will briefly deliver the same in this 
place. 

The cause of sense is the external body, or object, which 
presseth the organ proper to each sense, either immediately, 
as in the taste and touch, or mediately, as in seeing, hear 
ing, and smelling; which pressure, by the mediation of the 
nerves and other strings and membranes of the body con 
tinued inwards to the brain and heart, causeth there a re 
sistance, or counter-pressure, or endeavour of the heart to 
deliver itself, which endeavour, because outward, seemeth 
to be some matter without. And this seeming or fancy 
is that which men call sense and consisteth, as to the 

323 



324 THOMAS HOBBES 

eye, in a * light or colour figured ; to the ear, in a sound ; 
to the nostril, in an odour ; to the tongue and palate, in a 
savour ; and to the rest of the body, in heat/ cold/ 
hardness/ softness/ and such other qualities as we discern 
by feeling/ All which qualities, called sensible are in 
the object that causeth them but so many several motions 
of the matter, by which it presseth our organs diversely. 
Neither in us that are pressed are they anything else but 
divers motions; for motion produceth nothing but motion. 
But their appearance to us is fancy, the same waking that 
dreaming. And as pressing, rubbing, or striking the eye, 
makes us fancy a light, and pressing the ear produceth a 
din, so do the bodies also we see or hear produce the same 
by their strong, though unobserved, action. For if those 
colours and sounds were in the bodies, or objects that cause 
them, they could not be severed from them, as by glasses, 
and in echoes by reflection, we see they are, where we know 
the thing we see is in one place, the appearance in another. 
And though at some certain distance the real and very object 
seem invested with the fancy it begets in us, yet still the 
object is one thing, the image or fancy is another. So that 
sense in all cases is nothing else but. original fancy, caused, 
as I have said, by the pressure, that is by the motion, of 
external things upon our eyes, ears, and other organs there 
unto ordained. 

But the philosophy schools through all the universities 
of Christenidom, grounded upon certain texts of Aristotle, 
teach another doctrine, and say, for the cause of vision/ 
that the thing seen sendeth forth on every side a visible 
species/ in English, a visible show/ apparition/ or aspect/ 
or a being seen ; the receiving whereof into the eye is 
seeing. And for the cause of hearing/ that the thing 
heard sendeth forth an audible species/ that is an audible 
aspect/ or audible being seen/ which entering at the ear 
maketh hearing. Nay, for the cause of understanding 
also, they say the thing understood sendeth forth an intel 
ligible species/ that is, an intelligible being seen/ which, 
coming into the understanding, makes us understand. I say 
not this as disproving the use of universities; but, because 
I am to speak hereafter of their office in a commonwealth, 



OF MAN 325 

I must let you see on all occasions by the way what things 
would be amended in them, amongst which the frequency of 
insignificant speech is one. 



CHAPTER II 
OF IMAGINATION 

THAT when a thing lies still, unless somewhat else stir it, 
it will lie still for ever, is a truth that no man doubts of. 
But that when a thing is in motion, it will eternally be in 
motion, unless somewhat else stay it, though the reason be 
the same, namely that nothing can change itself, is not 
so easily assented to. For men measure not only other 
men but all other things, by themselves; and, because they 
find themselves subject after motion to pain and lassitude, 
think everything else grows weary of motion, and seeks 
repose of its own accord; little considering whether it 
be not some other motion wherein that desire of rest they 
find in themselves consisteth. From hence it is that the 
schools say heavy bodies fall downwards out of an appetite 
to rest, and to conserve their nature in that place which 
is most proper for them; ascribing appetite and knowledge 
of what is good for their conservation, which is more than 
man has, to things inanimate, absurdly. 

When a body is once in motion, it moveth, unless some 
thing else hinder it, eternally; and whatsoever hindereth it 
cannot in an instant, but in time and by degrees, quite ex 
tinguish it; and, as we see in the water though the wind 
cease the waves give not over rolling for a long time after : 
so also it happeneth in that motion which is made in the 
internal parts of a man, then, when he sees, dreams, etc. 
For, after the object is removed, or the eye shut, we still 
retain an image of the thing seen, though more obscure 
than when we see it. And this is it the Latins call imagina 
tion, from the image made in seeing; and apply the same, 
though improperly, to all the other senses. But the Greeks 
call it * fancy/ which signifies appearance/ and is as 
proper to one sense as to another. Imagination/ there 
fore, is nothing but decaying sense/ and is found in men, 



326 THOMAS HOBBES 

and many other living creatures, as well sleeping as 
waking. 

The decay of sense in men waking is not the^ decay of 
the motion made in sense, but an obscuring of^it in such 
manner as the light of the sun obscureth the light of the 
stars, which stars do no less exercise their virtue, by which 
they are visible, in the day than in the night. But because 
amongst many strokes which our eyes, ears, and other 
organs, receive from external bodies, the predominant only 
is sensible; therefore, the light of the sun being predomi 
nant, we are not affected with the action of the stars. And 
any object being removed from our eyes, though the im 
pression it made in us remain, yet other objects more present 
succeeding and working on us, the imagination of the past is 
obscured and made weak, as the voice of a man is in the 
noise of the day. From whence it followeth that the longer 
the time is, after the sight or sense of any object, the weaker 
is the imagination. For the continual change of man s body 
destroys in time the parts which in sense were moved; so 
that distance of time, and of place, hath one and the same 
effect in us. For as at a great distance of place that which 
we look at appears dim and without distinction of the 
smaller parts, and as voices grow weak and inarticulate, 
so also after great distance of time our imagination of the 
past is weak; and we lose, for example, of cities we have 
seen many particular streets, and of actions many partic 
ular circumstances. This decaying sense/ when we 
would express the thing itself, I mean fancy itself, we 
call imagination/ as I said before; but when we would 
express the decay, and signify that the sense is fading, 
old, and past, it is called memory/ So that imagina 
tion and memory are but one thing, which for divers con 
siderations hath divers names. 

Much memory, or memory of many things, is called 
experience/ Again, imagination being only of those 
things which have been formerly perceived by sense, either 
all at once or by parts at several times, the former, which 
is the imagining the whole object as it was presented to 
the sense, is simple* imagination, as when one imagineth 
a man, or horse, which he hath seen before. The other is 






OF MAN 327 

compounded/ as when, from the sight of a man at one 
time, and of a horse at another, we conceive in our mind 
a Centaur. So when a man compoundeth the image of 
his own person with the image of the actions of another 
man, as when a man images himself a Hercules or an 
Alexander, which happeneth often to them that are much 
taken with reading of romances, it is a compound imagina 
tion, and properly but a fiction of the mind. There be also 
other imaginations that rise in men, though waking, from 
the great impression made in sense; as, from gazing upon 
the sun, the impression leaves an image of the sun before our 
eyes a long time after ; and, from being long and vehemently 
attent upon geometrical figures, a man shall in the dark, 
though awake, have the images of lines and angles before his 
eyesj which kind of fancy hath no particular name, as being 
a thing that doth not commonly fall into men s discourse. 

The imaginations of them that sleep are those we call 
dreams/ And these also, as also all other imaginations, 
have been before, either totally or by parcels, in the sense. 
And, because in sense, the brain and nerves, which are the 
necessary organs of sense, are so benumbed in sleep as not 
easily to be moved by the action of external objects, there 
can happen in sleep no imagination, and therefore no dream, 
but what proceeds from the agitation of the inward parts 
of man s body ; which inward parts, for the connection they 
have with the brain and other organs, when they be dis 
tempered, do keep the same in motion; whereby the imag 
inations there formerly made, appear as if a man were 
waking; saving that the organs of sense being now be 
numbed, so as there is no new object which can master and 
obscure them with a more vigorous impression, a dream 
must needs be more clear in this silence of sense than our 
waking thoughts. And hence it cometh to pass that it is a 
hard matter, and by many thought impossible, to distinguish 
exactly between sense and dreaming. For my part, when 
I consider that in dreams I do riot often nor constantly think 
of the same persons, places, objects, and actions, that I do 
waking, nor remember so long a train of coherent thoughts, 
dreaming, as at other times, and because waking I often 
observe the absurdity of dreams, but never dream of the 



328 THOMAS HOBBES 

absurdities of my waking thoughts, I am well satisfied, that, 
being awake, I know I dream not, though when I dream 
I think myself awake. 

And, seeing dreams are caused by the distemper of some 
of the inward parts of the body, divers distempers must needs 
cause different dreams. And hence it is that lying cold 
breedeth dreams of fear, and raiseth the thought and image 
of some fearful object, the motion from the brain to the 
inner parts and from the inner parts to the brain being 
reciprocal; and that, as anger causeth heat in some parts 
of the body when we are awake, so when we sleep the over 
heating of the same parts causeth anger, and raiseth up in 
the brain the imagination of an enemy. In the same manner, 
as natural kindness, when we are awake, causeth desire, and 
desire makes heat in certain other parts of the body; so also 
too much heat in those parts, while we sleep, raiseth in the 
brain an imagination of some kindness shown. In sum, 
our dreams are the reverse of our waking imaginations, the 
motion when we are awake beginning at one end, and when 
we dream at another. 

The most difficult discerning of a man s dream from his 
waking thoughts is, then, when by some accident we observe 
not that we have slept: which is easy to happen to a man 
full of fearful thoughts, and whose conscience is much 
troubled, and that sleepeth without the circumstances of 
going to bed or putting off his clothes, as one that noddeth 
in a chair. For he that taketh pains, and industriously 
lays himself to sleep, in case any uncouth and exorbitant 
fancy come unto him, cannot easily think it other than a 
dream. We read of Marcus Brutus (one that had his life 
given him by Julius Caesar, and was also his favorite, and 
notwithstanding murdered him) how at Philippi, the night 
before he gave battle to Augustus Caesar, he^saw^a fearful 
apparition, which is commonly related by historians as^ a 
vision; but, considering the circumstances, one may easily 
judge to have been but a short dream. For, sitting in his 
tent, pensive and troubled with the horror of his rash act, 
it was not hard for him, slumbering in the cold, to dream of 
that which most affrighted him; which fear, as by degrees 
it made him wake, so also it must needs make the apparition by 



OF MAN 



329 



degrees to vanish; and, having no assurance that he slept, 
he could have no cause to think it a dream or anything but 
a vision. And this is no very rare accident ; for even they that 
be perfectly awake, if they be timorous and superstitious, 
possessed with fearful tales, and alone in the dark, are 
subject to the like fancies, and believe they see spirits and 
dead men s ghosts walking in churchyards; whereas it is 
either their fancy only, or else the knavery of such persons 
as make use of such superstitious fear to pass disguised in 
the night to places they would not be known to haunt. 

From this ignorance of how to distinguish dreams and 
other strong fancies from vision and sense, did arise the 
greatest part of the religion of the Gentiles in time past, 
that worshipped satyrs, fawns, nymphs, and the like; and 
now-a-days the opinion that rude people have of fairies, 
ghosts, and goblins, and of the power of witches. For as 
for witches, I think not that their witchcraft is any real 
power; but yet that they are justly punished for the false 
belief they have that they can do such mischief, joined with 
their purpose to do it if they can; their trade being nearer 
to a new religion than to a craft or science. And for fairies 
and walking ghosts, the opinion of them has, I think, been 
on purpose either taught, or not confuted, to keep in credit 
the use of exorcism, of crosses, of holy water, and other such 
inventions of ghostly men. Nevertheless there is no doubt 
but God can make unnatural apparitions; but that He does 
it so often as men need to fear such things more than they 
fear the stay or change of the course of nature, which He 
also can stay and change, is no point of Christian faith. 
But evil men, under pretext that God can do anything, 
are so bold as to say anything when it serves their turn, though 
they think it untrue ; it is the part of a wise man to believe 
them no farther than right reason makes that which they 
say appear credible. If this superstitious fear of spirits 
were taken away, and with it prognostics from dreams, 
false prophecies, and many other things depending there 
on, by which crafty ambitious persons abuse the simple 
people, men would be much more fitted than they are for 
civil obedience. 

And this ought to be the work of the schools; but they 



330 THOMAS HOBBES 

rather nourish such doctrine. For, not knowing what 
imagination or the senses are, what they receive they teach; 
some saying that imaginations rise of themselves and have 
no cause ; others that they rise most commonly from the will, 
and that good thoughts are blown (inspired) into a man by 
God, and evil thoughts by the devil; or that good thoughts 
are poured (infused) into a man by God, and evil ones by 
the devil. Some say the senses receive the species of things, 
and deliver them to the common sense, and the common 
sense delivers them over to the fancy, and the fancy to 
the memory, and the memory to the judgment, like handling 
of things from one to another, with many words making 
nothing understood. 

The imagination that is raised in man, or any other crea 
ture indued with the faculty of imagining, by words or other 
voluntary signs, is that we generally call understanding/ 
and is common to man and beast. For a dog by custom 
will understand the call or the rating of his master; and 
so will many other beasts. That understanding which is 
peculiar to man is the understanding not only his will 
but his conceptions and thoughts, by the sequel and con 
texture of the names of things into affirmations, nega 
tions, and other forms of speech; and of this kind of 
understanding I shall speak hereafter. 

CHAPTER III 
OF THE CONSEQUENCE OR TRAIN OF IMAGINATIONS 

BY consequence/ or train/ of thoughts I understand that 
succession of one thought to another which is called, to 
distinguish it from discourse in words, mental discourse/ 

When a man thinketh on anything whatever, his next 
thought after is not altogether so casual as it seems to be. 
Not every thought to every thought succeeds indifferently. 
But as we have no imagination whereof we have not for 
merly had sense, in whole or in parts, so we have no transi 
tion from one imagination to another whereof we never 
had the like before in our senses. The reason whereof is 
this. All fancies are motions within us, relics of those made 



OF MAN 331 

in the sense, and those motions that immediately succeeded 
one another in the sense continue also together after sense : 
in so much as the former coming again to take place, and 
be predominant, the latter followeth, by coherence of the 
matter moved, in such manner as water upon a plane table 
is drawn which way any one part of it is guided by the 
finger. But because in sense to one and the same thing 
perceived, sometimes one thing sometimes another, suc- 
ceedeth, it comes to pass in time that in the imagining of 
anything there is no certainty what we shall imagine next: 
only this is certain, it shall be something that succeeded 
the same before, at one time or another. 

This train of thoughts, or mental discourse, is of two 
sorts. The first is unguided/ without design, and in 
constant; wherein there is no passionate thought, to govern 
and direct those that follow, to itself, as the end and scope 
of some desire or other passion : in which case the thoughts 
are said to wander, and seem impertinent one to another as 
in a dream. Such are commonly the thoughts of men that 
are not only without company but also without care of any 
thing; though even then their thoughts are as busy as at 
other times, but without harmony; as the sound which a 
lute out of tune would yield to any man, or in tune to one 
that could not play. And yet in this wild ranging of the 
mind a man may oft-times perceive the way of it, and the 
dependence of one thought upon another. For in a dis 
course of our present civil war, what could seem more im 
pertinent than to ask, as one did, what was the value of a 
Roman penny. Yet the coherence to me was manifest 
enough. For the thought of the war introduced the thought 
of the delivering up the king to his enemies; the thought of 
that brought in the thought of the delivering up of Christ; 
and that again the thought of the thirty pence, which was the 
price of that treason ; and thence easily followed that mali 
cious question; and all this in a moment of time for 
thought is quick. 

The second is more constant ; as being regulated by 
some desire and design. For the impression made by such 
things as we desire, or fear, is strong and permanent, or, 
if it cease for a time, of quick return: so strong it is some- 



332 THOMAS HOBBES 

times as to hinder and break our sleep. From desire ariseth 
the thought of some means we have seen produce the like of 
that which we aim at; and from the thought of that, the 
thought of means to that mean; and so continually till we 
come to some beginning within our own power. And because 
the end, by the greatness of the impression, comes often to 
mind, in case our thoughts begin to wander, they are quickly 
again reduced into the way: which observed by one of the 
Seven Wise Men, made him give men this precept, which 
is now worn out, Respice finem, that is to say, in all your 
actions look often upon what you would have as the thing 
that directs all your thoughts in the way to attain it. 

The train of regulated thoughts is of two kinds; one, 
when of an effect imagined we seek the causes or means that 
produce it; and this is common to man and beast. The 
other is when imagining anything whatsoever we seek all 
the possible effects that can by it be produced, that is 
to say, we imagine what we can do with it when we have 
it. Of which I have not at any time seen any sign but 
in man only; for this is a curiosity hardly incident to the 
nature of any living creature that has no other passion but 
sensual, such as are hunger, thirst, lust, and anger. In sum, 
the discourse of the mind, when it is governed by design, 
is nothing but seeking, or the faculty of invention, which 
the Latins called sagacitas, and solertia; a hunting out of 
the causes, of some effect, present or past; or of the effects, 
of some present or past cause. Sometimes a man seeks what 
he hath lost; and from that place and time wherein he 
misses it his mind runs back, from place to place, and time 
to time, to find where and when he had it, that is to say, to 
find some certain and limited time and place in which to 
begin a method of seeking. Again, from thence his thoughts 
run over the same places and times to find what action or 
other occasion might make him lose it. This we call remem 
brance/ or calling to mind: the Latins call it re minis centia, 
as it were a re-conning of our former actions. 

Sometimes a man knows a place determinate, within 
the compass whereof he is to seek; and then his thoughts 
run over all the parts thereof, in the same manner as one 
would sweep a room to find a jewel, or as a spaniel ranges 



OF MAN 333 

the field till he find a scent, or as a man should run over 
the alphabet to start a rhyme. 

Sometimes a man desires to know the event of an action ; 
and then he thinketh of some like action past, and the 
events thereof one after another, supposing like events will 
follow like actions. As he that foresees what will become 
of a criminal re-cons what he has seen follow on the like 
crime before, having this order of thoughts, the crime, the 
officer, the prison, the judge, and the gallows. Which kind 
of thoughts is called foresight, and prudence, or provi 
dence/ and sometimes wisdom, though such conjecture, 
through the difficulty of observing all circumstances, be 
very fallacious. But this is certain: by how much one man 
has more experience of things past than another, by so much 
also he is more prudent, and his expectations the seldomer 
fail him. The present only has a being in nature ; things 
past have a being in the memory only, but things to 
come have no being at all, the future being but a fiction 
of the mind, applying the sequels of actions past to the 
actions that are present; which with most certainty is done 
by him that has most experience, but not with certainty 
enough. And though it be called prudence, when the event 
answereth our expectation, yet, in its own nature, it is but 
presumption. For the foresight of things to come, which 
is providence, belongs only to him by whose will they are to 
come. From him only, and supernaturally, proceeds proph 
ecy. The best prophet naturally is the best guesser ; and the 
best guesser he that is most versed and studied in the mat 
ters he guesses at, for he hath most signs to guess by. 

A sign" is the event antecedent of the consequent; and, 
contrarily, the consequent of the antecedent, when the 
like consequences have been observed before; and the 
oftener they have been observed, the less uncertain is the 
sign. And therefore he that has most experience in any 
kind of business has most signs whereby to guess at the 
future time, and consequently is the most prudent; and so 
much more prudent than he that is new in that kind of 
business as not to be equalled by any advantage of natural 
and extemporary wit; though perhaps many young men 
think the contrary. 



334 THOMAS HOBBES 

Nevertheless it is not prudence that distmguisheth man 
from beast. There be beasts that at a year old observe 
more, and pursue that which is for their good more pru 
dently than a child can do at ten. 

As prudence is a presumption of the future contracted 
from the experience of time past/ so there is a pre 
sumption of things past taken from other things, not future, 
but past also. For he that hath seen by what courses and 
degrees a flourishing state hath first come into civil war, 
and then to ruin, upon the sight of the ruins of any other 
state will guess the like war and the like courses have been 
there also. But this conjecture has the same uncertainty 
almost with the conjecture of the future, both being 
grounded only upon experience. 

There is no other act of man s mind that I can remember 
naturally planted in him, so as to need no other thing to 
the exercise of it but to be born a man, and live with the 
use of his five senses. Those other faculties of which I 
shall speak by and by, and which seem proper to man only, 
are acquired and increased by study and industry, and of 
most men learned by instruction and discipline; and pro 
ceed all from the invention of words and speech. For 
besides sense, and thoughts, and the train of thoughts, the 
mind of man has no other motion, though by the help of 
speech and method the same faculties may be improved to 
such a height as to distinguish men from all other living 
creatures. 

Whatsoever we imagine is finite/ Therefore there is 
no idea or conception of any thing we call infinite.* No 
man can have in his mind an image of infinite magnitude, 
nor conceive infinite swiftness, infinite time, or infinite force, 
or infinite power. When we say anything is infinite, we 
signify only that we are not able to conceive the ends and 
bounds of the things named; having no conception of the 
thing, but of our own inability. And therefore the name 
of God is used, not to make us conceive Him, for He is 
incomprehensible, and His greatness and power are uncon 
ceivable ; but that we may honour Him. Also because, what 
soever, as I said before, we conceive, has been perceived 
first by sense, either all at once or by parts ; a man can have 



OF MAN 335 

no thought representing anything not subject to sense. No 
man therefore can conceive anything but he must conceive it 
in some place, and indued with some determinate magnitude, 
and which may be divided into parts; nor that anything is 
all in this place and all in another place at the same time; 
nor that two or more things can be in one and the same 
place at once: for none of these things ever have or can 
be incident to sense, but are absurd speeches, taken upon 
credit, without any signification at all, from deceived philos 
ophers, and deceived or deceiving schoolmen. 



CHAPTER IV 
OF SPEECH 

THE Invention of printing/ though ingenious compared 
with the invention of letters/ is no great matter. But who 
was the first that found the use of letters is not known. He 
that first brought them into Greece men say was Cadmus, 
the son of Agenor, king of Phoenicia. A profitable invention 
for continuing the memory of time past and the conjunction 
of mankind, dispersed into so many and distant regions of 
the earth ; and withal difficult, as proceeding from a watchful 
observation of the divers motions of the tongue, palate, lips, 
and other organs of speech, whereby to make as many dif 
ferences of characters, to remember them. But the most 
noble and profitable invention of all other was that of 
speech consisting of names 1 or appellations/ and their 
connection ; whereby men register their thoughts, recall them 
when they are past, and also declare them one to another for 
mutual utility and conversation; without which there had 
been amongst men neither commonwealth, nor society, nor 
contract, nor peace, no more than amongst lions, bears, and 
wolves. The first author of speech was God Himself, that 
instructed Adam how to name such creatures as He presented 
to his sight; for the Scripture goeth no further in this matter. 
But this was sufficient to direct him to add more names, as^the 
experience and use of the creatures should give him occasion, 
and to join them in such manner by degrees as to make him 
self understood; and so, by succession of time, so much 



336 THOMAS HOBBES 

language might be gotten as he had found use for; though 
not so copious, as an orator or philosopher has need of: for 
I do not find anything in the Scripture out of which, directly 
or by consequence, can be gathered that Adam was taught 
the names of all figures, numbers, measures, colours, sounds, 
fancies, relations much less the names of words and speech, 
as general, special/ affirmative, negative, interroga 
tive, optative/ infinitive/ all which are useful, and, least of 
all, of * entity/ * intentionality/ quiddity/ and other insig 
nificant words of the school. 

But all this language gotten, and augmented by Adam and 
his posterity was again lost at the Tower of Babel, when by 
the hand of God every man was stricken for his rebellion 
with an oblivion of his former language. And being hereby 
forced to disperse themselves into several parts of the world, 
it must needs be that the diversity of tongues that now is 
proceeded by degrees from them in such manner as need, the 
mother of all inventions, taught them; and in tract of time 
grew everywhere more copious. 

The general use of speech is to transfer our mental dis 
course into verbal, or the train of our thoughts into a train 
of words, and that for two commodities, whereof one is the 
registering of the consequences of our thoughts, which, being 
apt to slip out of our memory and put us to a new labour, 
may again be recalled by such words as they were marked by. 
So that the first use of names is to serve for marks/ or 
1 notes/ of remembrance. Another is, when many use the 
same words to signify by their connection and order one to 
another what they conceive or think of each matter ; and also 
what they desire, fear, or have any other passion for. And 
for this use they are called signs. Special uses of speech 
are these: first, to register what by cogitation we find to be 
the cause of anything, present or past; and what we find 
things present or past may produce, or effect ; which, in sum, 
is acquiring of arts. Secondly, to show to others that knowl 
edge which we have attained, which is to counsel and teach 
one another. Thirdly, to make known to others our wills and 
purposes, that we may have the mutual help of one another. 
Fourthly, to please and delight ourselves and others by play 
ing with our words, for pleasure or ornament, innocently. 



OF MAN 



337 



To these uses there are also four correspondent abuses. 
First, when men register their thoughts wrong, by the in 
constancy of the signification of their words; by which they 
register for their conceptions that which they never con 
ceived, and so deceive themselves. Secondly, when they use 
words metaphorically, that is, in other sense than that 
they are ordained for; and thereby deceive others. Thirdly, 
when by words, they declare that to be their will which 
is not. Fourthly, when they use them to grieve one an 
other; for seeing Nature hath armed living creatures, some 
with teeth, some with horns, and some with hands, to grieve 
an enemy, it is but an abuse of speech to grieve him 
with the tongue, unless it be one whom we are obliged 
to govern; and then it is not to grieve, but to correct and 
amend. 

The manner how speech serveth to the remembrance of the 
consequence of causes and effects consisteth in the imposing 
of names, and the * connection of them. 

Of names, some are proper/ and singular to one only 
thing, as Peter, John/ this man/ this tree ; and some 
are common to many things, man/ horse/ tree every 
of which, though but one name, is nevertheless the name 
of divers particular things; in respect of all which together it 
is called an universal/ there being nothing in the world 
universal but names; for the things named are every one of 
them individual and singular. 

One universal name is imposed on many things, for their 
similitude in some quality or other accident; and whereas 
a proper name bringeth to mind one thing only, universals 
recall any one of those many. 

And, of names universal, some are of more, and some of 
less extent, the larger comprehending the less large; and 
some again of equal extent, comprehending each other recip 
rocally. As, for example, the name body is of larger 
signification than the word man/ and comprehendeth it ; 
and the names man and rational are of equal extent, 
comprehending mutually one another. But here we must 
take notice that by a name is not always understood, as in 
grammar, one only word; but sometimes, by circumlocution, 
many words together. For all these words, he that in his 



338 THOMAS HOBBES 

actions observeth the laws of his country make but one 
name, equivalent to this one word just/ 

By this imposition of names, some of larger, some of 
stricter signification, we turn the reckoning of the con 
sequences of things imagined in the mind into a reckoning 
of the consequences of appellations. For example: a man 
that hath no use of speech at all, such as is born and remains 
perfectly deaf and dumb, if he set before his eyes a triangle 
and by it two right angles, such as are the corners of a square 
figure, he may by meditation compare and find that the three 
angles of that triangle are equal to those two right angles 
that stand by it. But if another triangle be shown him, dif 
ferent in shape from the former, he cannot know without a 
new labour whether the three angles of that also be equal to 
the same. But he that hath the use of words, when he 
observes that such equality was consequent not to the length 
of the sides nor to any other particular thing in his triangle, 
but only to this, that the sides were straight, and the angles 
three, and that that was all for which he named it a triangle, 
will boldly conclude universally that such equality of angles 
is in all triangles whatsoever, and register his invention in 
these general terms, every triangle hath its three angles 
equal to two right angles/ And thus the consequence found 
in one particular comes to be registered and remembered as 
a universal rule, and discharges our mental reckoning of 
time and place, and delivers us from all labour of the mind 
saving the first ; and makes that which was found true * here 
and now to be true in * all times and places/ 

But the use of words in registering our thoughts is in 
nothing so evident as in numbering. A natural fool that 
could never learn by heart the order of numeral words, as 
one/ two/ and three/ may observe every stroke of the 
clock, and nod to it, or say one/ one/ one/ but can never 
know what hour it strikes. And it seems there was a time 
when those names of number were not in use, and men were 
fain to apply their fingers of one or both hands to those 
things they desired to keep account of; and that thence it 
proceeded that now our numeral words are but ten in any 
nation, and in some but five ; and then they begin again. And 
he that can tell ten, if he recite them out of order, will lose 



OP MAN 339 

himself and not know when he has done. Much less will 
he be able to add, and subtract, and perform all other opera 
tions of arithmetic. So that without words there is no pos 
sibility of reckoning of numbers; much less of magnitudes, 
of swiftness, of force, and other things, the reckonings 
whereof are necessary to the being, or well-being of man 
kind. 

When two names are joined together into a consequence, 
or affirmation as thus, * a man is a living creature/ or thus, 
if he be a man, he is a living creature, if the latter name, 
living creature/ signify all that the former name, man/ 
signifieth, then the affirmation, or consequence, is true ; 
otherwise false/ For true and false are attributes of 
speech, not of things. And where speech is not, there is 
neither truth nor falsehood : error there may be, as 
when we expect that which shall not b, or suspect what has 
not been; but in neither case can a man be charged with 
untruth. 

Seeing then that truth consisteth in the right ordering of 
names in our affirmations, a man that seeketh precise truth 
had need to remember what every name he uses stands for, 
and to place it accordingly, or else he will find himself en 
tangled in words, as a bird in lime twigs the more he 
struggles the more belimed. And therefore in geometry, 
which is the only science that it hath pleased God hitherto to 
bestow on mankind, men begin at settling the significations 
of their words ; which settling of significations they call defi 
nitions/ and place them in the beginning of their reckoning. 

By this it appears how necessary it is for any man that 
aspires to true knowledge to examine the definitions of former 
authors; and either to correct them, where they are negli 
gently set down, or to make them himself. For the errors of 
definitions multiply themselves according as the reckoning 
proceeds, and lead men into absurdities which at last they 
see, but cannot avoid without reckoning anew from the be 
ginning, in which lies the foundation of their errors. From 
whence it happens that they which trust to books do as they 
that cast up many little sums into a greater, without con* 
sidering whether those little sums were rightly cast up or 
not; and at last, finding the error visible and not mistrusting 



340 THOMAS HOBBES 

their first grounds, know not which way to clear themselves, 
but spend time in fluttering over their books, as birds that, 
entering by the chimney and finding themselves enclosed in 
a chamber, flutter at the false light of a glass window for 
want of wit to consider which way they came in. So that in 
the right definition of names lies the first use of speech, which 
is the acquisition of science ; and in wrong, or no definitions, 
lies the first abuse ; from which proceed all false and senseless 
tenets: which make those men that take their instruction 
from the authority of books and not from their own medita 
tion to be as much below the condition of ignorant men as 
men endued with true science are above it. For between true 
science and erroneous doctrines ignorance is in the middle. 
Natural sense and imagination are not subject to absurdity. 
Nature itself cannot err; and as men abound in copiousness 
of language, so they become more wise, or more mad, than 
ordinary. Nor is it possible without letters for any man to 
become either excellently wise, or, unless his memory be hurt 
by disease or ill constitution of organs, excellently foolish. 
For words are wise men s counters they do but reckon by 
them; but they are the money of fools, that value them by 
the authority of an Aristotle, a Cicero, or a Thomas or any 
other doctor whatsoever, if but a man. 

Subject to names is whatsoever can enter into or be 
considered in an account, and be added one to another to 
make a sum, or subtracted one from another and leave a 
remainder. The Latins called accounts of money rationes, 
and accounting ratiocinatio ; and that which we in bills or 
books of account call items they call nomina, that is 
names/ and thence it seems to proceed that they extended 
the word ratio to the faculty of reckoning in all other things. 
The Greeks have but one word, Ad^o?, for both speech 
and reason ; not that they thought there was no speech 
without reason, but no reasoning without speech ; and the act 
of reasoning they called syllogism, which signifieth summing 
up of the consequences of one saying to another. And be 
cause the same thing may enter into account for divers 
accidents, their names are, to show that diversity, diversely 
wrested and diversified. This diversity of names maty be 
reduced to four general heads. 



OF MAN 341 

First, a thing may enter into account for matter or 
* body, as living, sensible, rational/ hot/ cold, 
moved/ quiet ; with all which names the word matter 
or body is understood ; all such being names of matter. 

Secondly, it may enter into account, or be considered, for 
some accident or quality which we conceive to be in it; as 
for being moved/ for being so long/ for being hot/ etc. ; 
and then, of the name of the thing itself, by a little change or 
wresting we make a name for that accident which we con 
sider; and for living put into the account life/ for 
moved motion/ for hot heat/ for long length/ and 
the like; and all such names are the names of the accidents 
and properties by which one matter and body is distinguished 
from another. These are called names abstract/ because 
severed not from matter but from the account of matter. 

Thirdly, we bring into account the properties of our own 
bodies, whereby we make such distinction ; as, when anything 
is seen by us, we reckon not the thing itself but the sight, 
the colour, the idea of it in the fancy ; and when anything is 
heard, we reckon it not, but the hearing or sound only, which 
is our fancy or conception of it by the ear; and such are 
names of fancies. 

Fourthly, we bring into account, consider, and give names, 
to names themselves, and to speeches/ for general/ 
universal/ special/ equivocal/ are names of names. And 
affirmation/ interrogation/ commandment/ narration/ 
syllogism/ sermon/ oration/ and many other such, are 
names of speeches. And this is all the variety of names 
positive/ which are put to mark somewhat which is in 
Nature, or may be feigned by the mind of man, as bodies that 
are or may be conceived to be; or of bodies, the properties 
that are or may be feigned to be ; or words and speech. 

There be also other names, called negative/ which are 
notes to signify that a word is not the name of the thing in 
question ; as these words nothing/ no man/ infinite/ in 
docile/ three want four/ and the like ; which are neverthe 
less of use in reckoning, or in correcting of reckoning, and 
call to mind our past cogitations, though they be not names 
of anything, because they make us refuse to admit of names 
not rightly used. 



342 THOMAS HOBBES 

All other names are but insignificant sounds ; and those of 
two sorts. One when they are new, and yet their meaning 
not explained by definition; whereof there have been abun 
dance coined by schoolmen, and puzzled philosophers. 

Another, when men make a name of two names, whose 
significations are contradictory and inconsistent; as this 
name, an * incorporeal body/ or, which is all one, an in 
corporeal substance/ and a great number more. For, when 
soever any affirmation is false, the two names of which it is 
composed put together and made one signify nothing at all. 
For example, if it be a false affirmation to say a quadrangle 
is round/ the word round quadrangle signifies nothing, but 
is a mere sound. So likewise, if it be false to say that virtue 
can be poured, or blown up and down, the words inpoured 
virtue/ inblown virtue/ are as absurd and insignificant as 
a round quadrangle. And therefore you shall hardly meet 
with a senseless and insignificant word that is not made up 
of some Latin or Greek names. A Frenchman seldom hears 
our Saviour called by the name of parole, but by the name 
of verbe often; yet verbe and parole differ no more but that 
one is Latin, the other French. 

When a man, upon the hearing of any speech, hath those 
thoughts which the words of that speech and their connec 
tion were ordained and constituted to signify, then he is said 
to understand it, understanding being nothing else but con 
ception caused by speech. And therefore, if speech be 
peculiar to man, as for aught I know it is, then is under 
standing peculiar to him also. And therefore of absurd and 
false affirmations, in case they be universal, there can be no 
understanding; though many think they understand, then, 
when they do but repeat the words softly, or con them in 
their mind. 

What kinds of speeches signify the appetites, aversions, 
and passions of man s mind, and of their use and abuse, I 
shall speak when I have spoken of the passions. 

The names of such things as affect us, that is, which please 
and displease us, because all men be not alike affected with 
the same thing nor the same man at all times, are in the 
common discourses of men of inconstant signification. For 
seeing all names are imposed to signify our conceptions, and 



OF MAN 



343 



all our affections are but conceptions, when we conceive the 
same things differently we can hardly avoid different naming 
of them. For though the nature of that we conceive be the 
same, yet the diversity of our reception of it, in respect of 
different constitutions of body and prejudices of opinion, 
gives everything a tincture of our different passions. And 
therefore in reasoning a man must take heed of words, 
which, besides the signification of what we imagine of their 
nature, have a signification also of the nature, disposition, 
and interest of the speaker; such as are the names of virtues 
and vices ; for one man calleth wisdom what another calleth 
fear/ and one cruelty what another justice ; one * prod 
igality what another magnanimity ; and one gravity* 
what another stupidity, etc. And therefore such names can 
never be true grounds of any ratiocination. No more can 
metaphors and tropes of speech; but these are less dangerous, 
because they profess their inconstancy, which the other 
do not. 

CHAPTER V 
OF REASON AND SCIENCE 

WHEN a man reasoneth he does nothing else but con 
ceive a sum total, from addition of parcels, or conceive a 
remainder, from subtraction of one sum from another; 
which, if it be done by words, is conceiving of the con 
sequence of the names of all the parts, to the name of the 
whole; or from the names of the whole and one part, to the 
name of the other part. And, though in some things, as in 
numbers, besides adding and subtracting men name other 
operations, as multiplying and dividing/ yet they are the 
same; for multiplication is but adding together of things 
equal ; and division but subtracting of one thing, as often as 
we can. These operations are not incident to numbers only, 
but to all manner of things that can be added together, and 
taken one out of another. For as arithmeticians teach to add 
and subtract in numbers/ so the geometricians teach the 
same in lines/ figures/ solid and superficial, angles/ pro 
portions/ times/ degrees of swiftness/ force/ power 
and the like ; the logicians teach the same in consequences 



344 THOMAS HOBBES 

of words/ adding together two names to make an affirma 
tion/ and two affirmations to make a syllogism ; and 
many syllogisms to make a demonstration ; and from the 
sum/ or "conclusion/ of a syllogism they subtract one 
proposition to find the other. Writers of politics add to 
gether pactions to find men s duties/ and lawyers laws 
and facts/ to find what is right and wrong in the actions 
of private men. In sum, in what matter soever there is place 
for addition and subtraction there also is place for 
reason/ and where these have no place, there reason has 
nothing at all to do. 

Out of all which we may define, that is to say determine, 
what that is which is meant by this word reason/ when we 
reckon it amongst the faculties of the mind. For reason 
in this sense is nothing but reckoning/ that is adding and 
subtracting, of the consequences of general names agreed 
upon for the marking* and signifying of our thoughts; 
I say marking them when we reckon by ourselves, and 
signifying when we demonstrate or approve our reckon 
ings to other men. 

And, as in arithmetic, unpractised men must, and profes 
sors themselves may often, err, and cast up false; so also in 
any other subject of reasoning the ablest, most attentive, 
and most practised men may deceive themselves, and infer 
false conclusions; not but that reason itself is always right 
reason, as well as arithmetic is a certain and infallible art; 
but no one man s reason, nor the reason of any one number 
of men, makes the certainty; no more than an account is 
therefore well cast up, because a great many men have 
unanimously approved it. And therefore, as when there is a 
controversy in an account the parties must by their own 
accord set up for right reason the reason of some arbitrator, 
or judge, to whose sentence they will both stand, or their 
controversy must either come to blows, or be undecided, for. 
want of a right reason constituted by Nature; so is it also 
in all debates of what kind soever. And when men that 
think themselves wiser than all others clamour and demand 
right reason for judge, yet seek no more but that things 
should be determined by no other men s reason but their own, 
it is as intolerable in the society of men as it is in play after 



OF MAN 345 

trump is turned, to use for trump on every occasion that 
suit whereof they have most in their hand. For they do 
nothing else that will have every of their passions, as it 
comes to bear sway in them, to be taken for right reason, and 
that in their own controversies, bewraying their want of 
right reason, by the claim they lay to it. 

The use and end of reason is not the finding of the sum 
and truth of one or a few consequences remote from the 
first definitions and settled significations of names, but to 
begin at these, and proceed from one consequence to another. 
For there can be no certainty of the last conclusion without 
a certainty of all those affirmations and negations on which 
it was grounded and inferred. As when a master of a 
family in taking an account casteth up the sums of all the 
bills of expense into one sum, and, not regarding how each 
bill is summed up by those that give them in account nor what 
it is he pays for, he advantages himself no more than if he 
allowed the account in gross, trusting to every of the ac 
countants skill and honesty; so also, in reasoning of all 
other things, he that takes up conclusions on the trust of 
authors and doth not fetch them from the first items in every 
reckoning, which are the significations of names settled by 
definitions, loses his labour, and does not know anything, but 
only believeth. 

When a man reckons without the use of words,^which may 
be done in particular things, as when upon the sight of any 
one thing we conjecture what was likely to have preceded or 
is likely to follow upon it, if that which he thought likely 
to follow follows not, or that which he thought likely to have 
preceded it hath not preceded it, this is called error, to 
which even the most prudent men are subject. But when 
we reason in words of general signification, and fall upon 
a general inference which is false, though it be commonly 
called error, it is indeed an absurdity/ or senseless speech. 
For error is but a deception, in presuming that somewhat 
is past or to come, of which, though it were not past or not 
to come, yet there was no impossibility discoverable, 
when we make a general assertion, unless it be a true one, 
the possibility of it is inconceivable. And words whereby 
we conceive nothing but the sound are those we call absurd/ 



346 THOMAS HOBBES 

insignificant, and nonsense/ And therefore if a man 
should talk to me of a round quadrangle/ or accidents of 
bread in cheese/ or immaterial substances/ or of a free 
subject/ a free will/ or any free* but free from being 
hindered by opposition, I should not say he were in an error, 
but that his words were without meaning, that is to say 
absurd. 

I have said before, in the second chapter, that a man did 
excel all other animals in this faculty that when he conceived 
anything whatsoever he was apt to inquire the consequences 
of it, and what effects he could do with it. And now I add 
this other degree of the same excellence, that he can by 
words reduce the consequences he finds to general rules, called 
theorems/ or aphorisms/ that is, he can reason, or reckon, 
not only in number, but in all other things whereof one may 
be added unto, or subtracted from another. 

But this privilege is allayed by another, and that is, by the 
privilege of absurdity; to which no living creature is subject, 
but man only. And of men, those are of all most subject to 
it that profess philosophy. For it is most true that Cicero 
saith of them somewhere that there can be nothing so absurd 
but may be found in the books of philosophers. And the 
reason is manifest. For there is not one of them that begins 
his ratiocination from the definitions or explications of the 
names they are to use, which is a method that hath been used 
only in geometry, whose conclusions have thereby been made 
indisputable. 

i. The first cause of absurd conclusions I ascribe to the 
want of method, in that they begin not their ratiocination 
from definitions, that is, from settled significations of their 
words; as if they could cast account without knowing the 
value of the numeral words * one/ two/ and three/ 

And whereas all bodies enter into account upon divers 
considerations, which I have mentioned in the precedent 
chapter, these considerations being diversely named, divers 
absurdities proceed from the confusion, and unfit connexion 
of their names into assertions. And therefore: 

ii. The second cause of absurd assertions I ascribe to the 
giving of names of bodies to accidents/ or of accidents 
to bodies/ as they do that say * faith is infused or * in- 



OP MAN 347 

spired, when nothing can be poured* or breathed into 
anything but body; and that extension is body/ that 
phantasms are spirits/ etc. 

in. The third I ascribe to the giving of the names of the 
accidents of bodies without us* to the accidents of our 
own bodies/ as they do that say the colour is in the body/ 
and the sound is in the air/ etc. 

iv. The fourth to the giving of the names of bodies to 
names or speeches/ as they do that say that there be 
things universal/ that a living creature is genus/ or a 
general thing/ etc. 

v. The fifth to the giving of the names of accidents to 
names and speeches/ as they do that say, the nature of 
a thing is its definition/ a man s command is his will/ and 
the like. 

vi. The sixth to the use of metaphors, tropes, and other 
rhetorical figures, instead of words proper. For though it be 
lawful to say, for example, in common speech, the way 
goeth, or leadeth hither or thither/ the proverb says this 
or that/ whereas ways cannot go, nor proverbs speak; yet 
in reckoning and seeking of truth such speeches are not to be 
admitted. 

vn. The seventh to names that signify nothing, but are 
taken up and learned by rote from the schools, as hypo- 
Btatical/ transubstantiate/ consubstantiate/ eternal-now/ 
and the like canting of schoolmen. 

To him that can avoid these things it is not easy to fall 
into any absurdity, unless it be by the length of an account, 
wherein he may perhaps forget what went before. For all 
men by nature reason alike, and well, when they have good 
principles. For who is so stupid as both to mistake in ge 
ometry and also to persist in it, when another detects his 
error to him? 

By this it appears that reason is not, as sense and memory, 
born with us, nor gotten by experience only, as prudence is; 
but attained by industry, first in apt imposing of names, and 
secondly by getting a good and orderly method in proceeding 
from the elements, which are names, to assertions made by 
connection of one of them to another, and so to syllogisms, 
which are the connections of one assertion to another, till 



348 THOMAS HOBBES 

we come to a knowledge of all the consequences of names 
appertaining to the subject in hand; and that is it men call 
science. And whereas sense and memory are but knowledge 
of fact, which is a thing past and irrevocable, science is 
the knowledge of consequences, and dependence of one fact 
upon another, by which, out of that we can presently do, we 
know how to do something else when we will, or the like 
another time; because when we see how anything comes 
about, upon what causes, and by what manner, when the like 
causes come into our power, we see how to make it produce 
the like effects. 

i-iiii" Children therefore are not endued with reason at all, till 

\ they have attained the use of speech; but are called reason- 

I able creatures, for the possibility apparent of having the use 

LO reason in time to come. And the most part of mfi. though 

they have the use of reasoning a little way, as in numbering 

to some degree, yet it serves them to little use in common 

4^ life, in which they govern themselves, some better, some 
worse Jiccsj^iing. to their differences of experience, quickness 
of memory, and inclinations to_. &eY.eraL_n_ds^; Jbut specially 
according to good or evil fortune, and the errors of one an 
other. For as for science/ or certain rules of their actions, 
they are so far from it that they know not what it is. Ge 
ometry they have thought conjuring; but for other sciences, 
they who have not been taught the beginnings and some 
progress in them, that they may see how they be acquired 
and generated, are in this point like children that, having no 
thought of generation, are made believe by the women that 
their brothers and sisters are not born but found in the 
garden. 

But yet they that have no science are in better and 
nobler condition, with their natural prudence, than men, that 
by mis-reasoning, or by trusting them that reason wrong, 
fall upon false and absurd general rules. For ignorance of 
causes and of rules does not set men so far out of their way 
as relying on false rules, and taking for causes of what they 
aspire to those that are not so, but rather causes of the 
contrary. 

To conclude, the light of human minds is perspicuous 
words, but by exact definitions first snuffed and purged from 



OF MAN 349 



ambiguity ; * reason is the pace/ increase of science the \\ 
way/ and the benefit of mankind the end. And, on the i\ \ 
contrary, metaphors, and senseless and ambiguous words, ] 
are like ignes fatui; and reasoning upon them is wandering 
amongst innumerable absurdities; and their end contention 
and sedition, or contempt. 

As much experience is prudence/ so is much science 
sapience. For though we usually have one name of wis 
dom for them both, yet the Latins did always distinguish 
between prudentia and sapientia, ascribing the former to ex 
perience, the latter to science. But, to make their difference 
appear more clearly, let us suppose one man endued with an 
excellent natural use and dexterity in handling his arms, and 
another to have added to that dexterity an acquired science of 
where he can offend or be offended by his adversary in every 
possible posture or guard: the ability of the former would be 
to the ability of the latter as prudence to sapience, both useful, 
but the latter infallible. But they that, trusting only to the au 
thority of books, follow the blind blindly are like him that, trust 
ing to the false rules of a master of fence, ventures presump 
tuously upon an adversary that either kills or disgraces him. 

The signs of science are, some certain and infallible, some, 
uncertain. Certain, when he that pretendeth the science of 
anything can teach the same, that is to say, demonstrate the 
truth thereof perspicuously to another; uncertain, when only 
some particular events answer to his pretence, and upon many 
occasions prove so as he says they must. Signs of prudence 
are all uncertain, because to observe by experience, and re 
member all circumstances that may alter the success, is 
impossible. But in any business whereof a man has not 
infallible science to proceed by, to forsake his own natural 
judgment, and be guided by general sentences read in authors 
and subject to many exceptions, is a sign of folly, and gen 
erally scorned by the name of pedantry. And even of those 
men themselves that in councils of the commonwealth love 
to show their reading of politics and history, very few do it 
in their domestic affairs, where their particular interest 
concerned, having prudence enough for their private affairs; 
but in public they study more the reputation of their own wit 
than the success of another s business. 



350 THOMAS HOBBEb 

CHAPTER VI 

OF THE INTERIOR BEGINNINGS OF VOLUNTARY MOTIONS, COM- 

MONLY CALLED THE PASSIONS ; AND THE SPEECHES 

BY WHICH THEY ARE EXPRESSED. 

THERE be in animals two sorts of motions peculiar to 
them : one called vital/ begun in generation, and continued 
without interruption through their whole life, such as are 
the course of the blood/ the pulse/ the * breathing/ the 
concoction, nutrition, excretion/ etc., to which motions 
there needs no help of imagination: the other is animal 
motion/ otherwise called voluntary motion/ as to go/ to 
speak/ to move* any of our limbs in such manner as is 
first fancied in our minds. That sense is motion in the 
organs and interior parts of man s body, caused by the action 
of the things we see, hear, etc.; and that fancy is but the 
relics of the same motion, remaining after sense, has been 
already said in the first and second chapters. And, because 
going/ speaking/ and the like voluntary motions, depend 
always upon a precedent thought of whither/ which way/ 
and what/ it is evident that the imagination is the first in 
ternal beginning of all voluntary motion. And, although 
unstudied men do not conceive any motion at all to be there 
where the thing moved is invisible, or the space it is moved 
in is, for the shortness of it, insensible; yet that doth not 
hinder but that such motions are. For, let a space be never 
so little, that which is moved over a greater space, whereof 
that little one is part, must first be moved over that* 
These small beginnings of motion within the body of man, 
before they appear in walking, speaking, striking, and other 
visible actions, are commonly called endeavour/ 

This endeavour, when it is toward something which causes 
it, is called appetite/ or desire/ the latter being the general 
name, and the other oftentimes restrained to signify the 
desire of food, namely hunger and thirst/ And, when the 
endeavour is fromward something, it is generally called 
aversion/ These words, appetite and aversion/ we have 
from the Latins ; and they both of them signify the motions, 
one of approaching, the other of retiring. So also do the 



OF MAN 851 



Greek words for the same, which are Spp.^ and Apopftl). For 
Nature itself does often press upon men those truths which 
afterwards, when they look for somewhat beyond Nature, 
tLey stumble at. For the schools find in mere appetite to go, 
or move, no actual motion at all ; but, because some motion 
they must acknowledge, they call it metaphorical motion, 
which is but an absurd speech; for though words may be 
called metaphorical, bodies and motions cannot. 

That which men desire they are also said to love ; and to 
hate those things for which they have aversion. So that 
desire and love are the same thing, save that by desire we 
always signify the absence of the object, by love most com 
monly the presence of the same. So also by aversion we 
signify the absence, and by hate, the presence of the object. 

Of appetites and aversions, some are born with men, as 
appetite of food, appetite of excretion, and exoneration, 
which may also and more properly be called aversions from 
somewhat they feel in their bodies ; and some other appetites, 
not many. The rest, which are appetites of particular things, 
proceed from experience and trial of their effects upon them 
selves or other men. For of things we know not at all, or 
believe not to be, we can have no further desire than to 
taste and try. But aversion we have for things not only 
which we know have hurt us, but also that we do not know 
whether they will hurt us or not. 

Those things which we neither desire nor hate we are said 
to contemn/ contempt* being nothing else but an immo 
bility or contumacy of the heart in resisting the action of 
certain things, and proceeding from that the heart is already 
moved otherwise by other more potent objects, or from want 
of experience of them. 

And, because the constitution of a man s body is in con 
tinual mutation, it is impossible that all the same things 
should always cause in him the same appetites and aversions : 
much less can all men consent in the desire of almost any 
one and the same object. 

But whatsoever is the object of any man s appetite or desire, 
that is it which he for his part calleth good ; and the object 
of his hate and aversion, evil ; and of his contempt vile* 
and inconsiderable/ For these words of good, evil, and 



352 THOMAS HOBBES 

contemptible, are ever used with relation to the person that 
useth them, there being nothing simply and absolutely so ; 
nor any common rule of good and evil, to be taken from the 
nature of the objects themselves; but from the person of 
the man, where there is no commonwealth, or, in a common 
wealth, from the person that represented it; or from an 
arbitrator or judge, whom men disagreeing shall by consent 
set up, and make his sentence the rule thereof. 

The Latin tongue has two words whose significations ap 
proach to those of good and evil, but are not precisely the 
same; and those are pulchrum and turpe. Whereof the 
former signifies that which by some apparent signs promiseth 
good; and the latter that which promiseth evil. But in our 
tongue we have not so general names to express them by. 
But for pulchrum we say in some things fair, in others, 
beautiful/ or handsome/ or gallant/ or honourable/ or 
comely/ or amiable ; and for turpe, foul/ deformed/ 
ugly/ base/ nauseous/ and the like, as the subject shall 
require; all which words, in their proper places, signify 
nothing else but the mien/ or countenance, that promiseth 
good and evil. So that of good there be three kinds: good 
in the promise, that is pulchrum; good in effect, as the end 
desired, which is called jucundum, delightful ; and good as 
the means which is called utile, profitable ; and as many of 
evil: for evil in promise is that they call turpe; evil in 
effect, and end is molestum, unpleasant/ troublesome ; and 
evil in the means, inutile, unprofitable/ hurtful. 

As, in sense, that which is really within us is, as I have 
said before, only motion caused by the action of external 
objects but in appearance to the sight, light and colour; 
to the ear, sound; to the nostril, odour, etc.; so, when the 
action of the same object is continued from the eyes, ears, 
and other organs to the heart, the real effect there is nothing 
but motion or endeavour which consisteth in appetite, or, 
aversion, to or from the object moving. But the apparence, 
or sense of that motion, is that we either call delight or 
trouble of mind. 

This motion, which is called appetite, and for the appar 
ence of it delight and pleasure/ seemeth to be a cor- 
roboration of vital motion, and a help thereunto; and 



OF MAN 353 

therefore such things as caused delight were not improperly 
called jucunda, (a juvando,} from helping or fortifying; and 
the contrary molesta, offensive/ from hindering and troub 
ling the motion vital. 

Pleasure/ therefore, or delight/ is the apparence or 
sense of good; and molestation/ or displeasure/ the ap 
parence or sense of evil. And consequently all appetite, de 
sire, and love, is accompanied with some delight more or less ; 
and all hatred and aversion with more or less displeasure 
and offence. 

Of pleasures or delights some arise from the sense of an 
object present; and those may be called pleasures of sense/ 
the word sensual/ as it is used by those only that condemn 
them, having no place till there be laws. Of this kind are all 
onerations and exonerations of the body, as also all that 
is pleasant in the sight/ hearing/ smell/ taste/ or 
touch. Others arise from the expectation that proceeds 
from foresight of the end or consequence of things, whether 
those things in the sense please or displease. And these are 
pleasures of the mind of him that draweth those conse 
quences, and are generally called joy/ In the like manner, 
displeasures are some in the sense, and called pain ; others 
in the expectation of consequences, and are called grief/ 

These simple passions called appetite/ desire/ love/ 
aversion/ hate/ joy/ and grief/ have their names for 
divers considerations diversified. As first, when they one 
succeed another, they are diversely called from the opinion 
men have of the likelihood of attaining what they desire. 
Secondly, from the object loved or hated. Thirdly, from 
the consideration of many of them together. Fourthly, 
from the alteration or succession itself. 

For appetite with an opinion of attaining is called 
hope/ 

The same without such opinion, despair/ 

Aversion with opinion of hurt from the object fear/ 

The same with hope of avoiding that hurt by resistance, 
courage/ 

Sudden courage/ anger/ 

Constant hope/ confidence of ourselves. 

Constant despair/ diffidence of ourselves. 

L) HC xxxiv 



354 THOMAS HOBBES 

Anger for great hurt done to another, when we con 
ceive the same to be done by injury, indignation/ 

Desire of good to another, benevolence/ good will/ 
1 charity/ If to man generally, good-nature/ 

Desire of riches, covetousness/ a name used always in 
signification of blame, because men contending for them are 
displeased with one another attaining them, though the de 
sire in itself be to be blamed, or allowed, according to the 
means by which those riches are sought. 

* Desire of office, or precedence, ambition/ a name used 
also in the worse sense, for the reason before mentioned. 

Desire of things that conduce but a little to our ends, 
and fear of things that are but of little hindrance, pusil 
lanimity/ 

Contempt of little helps and hindrances, magnanimity/ 

Magnanimity in danger of death or wounds, valour/ 
fortitude/ 

Magnanimity in the use of riches, liberality/ 

Pusillanimity in the same, wretchedness/ miserable- 
ness/ or parsimony/ as it is liked or disliked. 

Love of persons for society, kindness/ 

Love of persons for pleasing the sense only, natural 
lust/ 

Love of the same, acquired from rumination, that is 
imagination of pleasure past, luxury/ 

Love of one singularly, with desire to be singularly 
beloved, the passion of love/ The same, with fear that the 
love is not mutual, jealousy/ 

Desire/ by doing hurt to another, to make him condemn 
some fact of his own, revengefulness/ 

Desire to know why and how, curiosity/ such as is in 
no living creature but man/ so that man is distinguished 
not only by his reason but also by this singular passion from 
other animals/ in whom the appetite of food, and other 
pleasures of sense, by predominance take away the care of 
knowing causes, which is a lust of the mind, that by a perse 
verance of delight in the continual and indefatigable genera 
tion of knowledge exceedeth the short vehemence of any 
carnal pleasure. 

Fear of power invisible, feigned by the mind or imag- 



OF MAN 355 

incd from tales publicly allowed, religion, not allowed, 
superstition. And when the power imagined is truly such 
as we imagine, true religion. 

Fear/ without the apprehension of why or what, panic 
terror/ called so from the fables that make Pan the author 
of them, whereas in truth there is always in him that so 
feareth, first some apprehension of the cause, though the 
rest run away by example, every one supposing his fellow to 
know why. And therefore this passion happens to none 
but in a throng or multitude of people. 

Joy from apprehension of novelty admiration/ proper 
to man, because it excites the appetite of knowing the cause. 

Joy/ arising from imagination of a man s own power and 
ability is that exultation of the mind which is called glory 
ing/ which, if grounded upon the experience of his own 
former actions, is the same as confidence/ but if grounded 
on the flattery of others or only supposed by himself for 
delight in the consequences of it, is called vain-glory/ 
which name is properly given, because a well-grounded 
confidence begetteth attempt, whereas the supposing of 
power does not, and is therefore rightly called vain/ 

Grief from opinion of want of power is called dejec 
tion of mind/ 

The vain-glory which consisteth in the feigning or 
supposing of abilities in ourselves which we know are not is 
most incident to young men, and nourished by the histories 
or fictions of gallant persons, and is corrected oftentimes by 
age and employment. 

* Sudden glory is the passion which maketh those 
grimaces called laughter ; and is caused either by some 
sudden act of their own that pleaseth them, or by the appre 
hension of some deformed thing in another by comparison 
whereof they suddenly applaud themselves. And it is inci 
dent most to them that are conscious of the fewest abilities 
in themselves; who are forced to keep themselves in their 
own favour by observing the imperfections of other men. 
And therefore much laughter at the defects of others is a 
sign of pusillanimity. For of great minds one of the proper 
works is to help and free others from scorn and compare 
themselves only with the most able. 



356 THOMAS HOBBES 

On the contrary, * sudden dejection is the passion that 
causeth weeping/ and is caused by such accidents as sud 
denly take away some vehement hope or some prop of their 
power; and they are most subject to it that rely principally 
on helps external, such as are women and children. There 
fore some weep for the loss of friends, others for their un- 
kindness, others for the sudden stop made to their thoughts of 
revenge by reconciliation. But in all cases, both laughter and 
weeping, are sudden motions, custom taking them both away. 
For no man laughs at old jests, or weeps for an old calamity. 

Grief for the discovery of some defect of ability is 
4 shame/ or the passion that discovereth itself in blushing/ 
and consisteth in the apprehension of something dishonoura 
ble; and in young men is a sign of the love of good reputa 
tion, and commendable : in old men it is a sign of the same ; 
but, because it comes too late, not commendable. 

The contempt of good reputation is called impudence. 

Grief for the calamity of another is pity/ and ariseth 
from the imagination that the like calamity may befall him 
self; and therefore is called also * compassion/ and in the 
phrase of this present time a fellow-feeling ; and therefore 
for calamity arriving from great wickedness the best men 
have the least pity ; and for the same calamity those have least 
pity that think themselves least obnoxious to the same. 

Contempt/ or little sense of the calamity of others, is 
that which men call cruelty/ proceeding from security of 
their own fortune. For, that any man should take pleasure 
in other men s great harms without other end of his own, I 
do not conceive it possible. 

Grief for the success of a competitor in wealth, honour, 
or other good, if it be joined with endeavour to enforce our 
own abilities to equal or exceed him, is called emulation ; 
but joined with endeavour to supplant or hinder a com 
petitor, envy/ 

When in the mind of man, appetites and aversions, hopes 
and fears, concerning one and the same thing, arise alter 
nately, and divers good and evil consequences of the doing 
or omitting the thing propounded, come successively into our 
thoughts, so that sometimes we have an appetite to it, some 
times an aversion from it, sometimes hope to be able to do 



OF MAN 357 

it, sometimes despair or fear to attempt it, the whole sum 
of desires, aversions, hopes, and fears, continued till the 
thing be either done or thought impossible, is that we call 
deliberation/ 

Therefore of things past there is no deliberation, be 
cause manifestly impossible to be changed; nor of things 
known to be impossible, or thought so, because men know, 
or think, such deliberation vain. But of things impossible 
which we think possible we may deliberate ; not knowing it 
is in vain. And it is called deliberation, because it is a 
putting an end to the liberty we had of doing or omitting 
according to our own appetite or aversion. 

This alternate succession of appetites, aversions, hopes, 
and fears, is no less in other living creatures than in man; 
and therefore beasts also deliberate. 

Every deliberation is then said to * end when that 
whereof they deliberate is either done or thought impossible; 
because till then we retain the liberty of doing or omitting, 
according to our appetite or aversion. 

In deliberation/ the last appetite, or aversion, immedi 
ately adhering to the action, or to the omission thereof, is 
that we call the * will ; the act, not the faculty, of willing/ 
And beasts that have deliberation must necessarily also 
have will/ The definition of the will given commonly 
by the schools, that it is a rational appetite/ is not good. 
For if it were, then could there be no voluntary act against 
reason. For a voluntary act is that which proceedeth 
from the will and no other. But if instead of a rational 
appetite we shall say an appetite resulting from a precedent 
deliberation, then the definition is the same that I have given 
here. Will, therefore, is the last appetite in deliberating. 
And, though we say in common discourse a man had a will 
once to do a thing, that nevertheless he forbore to do, yet 
that is properly but an inclination, which makes no action 
voluntary; because the action depends not of it, but of the 
last inclination or appetite. For if the intervenient appe 
tites make any action voluntary, then by the same reason 
all intervenient aversions should make the same action in 
voluntary; and so one and the same action should be both 
voluntary and involuntary. 






358 THOMAS HOBBES 

By this it is manifest that not only actions that have their 
beginning from covetousness, ambition, lust, or other appe 
tites to the thing propounded, but also those that have their 
beginning from aversion, or fear of those consequences that 
follow the omission, are voluntary actions/ 

The forms of speech by which the passions are expressed 
are partly the same, and partly different from those by which 
we express our thoughts. And, first, generally all passions 
may be expressed indicatively/ as I love/ I fear/ I 
joy/ I deliberate/ I will/ I command/ but some of them 
have particular expressions by themselves, which neverthe 
less are not affirmations, unless it be when they serve to 
make other inferences besides that of the passion they pro 
ceed from. Deliberation is expressed subjunctively/ which 
is a speech proper to signify suppositions, with their conse 
quences : as, if this be done, then this will follow/ and 
differs not from the language of reasoning, save that reason 
ing is in general words ; but deliberation for the most part is 
of particulars. The language of desire, and aversion, is 
imperative/ as * do this/ forbear that/ which when the 
party is obliged to do, or forbear, is * command ; otherwise 
prayer/ or else counsel/ The language of vain-glory, of 
indignation, pity and revengefulness, optative/ but of the 
desire to know there is a peculiar expression, called inter 
rogative/ as what is it ? when shall it ? how is it 
done ? and why so ? Other language of the passions I 
find none; for cursing, swearing, reviling, and the like, do 
not signify as speech, but as the actions of a tongue accus 
tomed. 

These forms of speech, I say, are expressions, or volun 
tary significations of our passions; but certain signs they 
be not, because they may be used arbitrarily, whether they 
that use them have such passions or not. The best signs 
of passions present are either in the countenance, motions 
of the body, actions, and ends, or aims, which we otherwise 
know the man to have. 

And because in deliberation the appetites and aversions 
are raised by foresight of the good and evil consequences, 
and sequels of the action whereof we deliberate, the good 
or evil effect thereof dependeth on the foresight of a long 



OF MAN 359 

chain of consequences of which very seldom any man is able 
to see to the end. But for so far as a man seeth, if the 
good in those consequences be greater than the evil, the 
whole cham is that which writers call apparent or seem 
ing good/ And, contrarily, when the evil exceedeth the 
good, the whole is apparent or seeming evil/ so that he 
who hath by experience, or reason, the greatest and surest 
prospect of consequences, deliberates best himself, and is 
able, when he will, to give the best counsel unto others. 

Continual success in obtaining those things which a man 
from^time to time desireth, that is to say continual prosper 
ing, is that men call felicity I mean the felicity of this 
life. For there is no such thing as perpetual tranquility of 
mind while we live Here, because life itself is but motion, 
and can never be without desire, nor without fear, no more 
than without sense. What kind of felicity God hath or 
dained to them that devoutly honour Him a man shall no 
sooner know than enjoy, being joys that now are as incom 
prehensible as the word of schoolmen beatifical vision is 
unintelligible. 

The form of speech whereby men signify their opinion 
of the goodness of anything is praise/ That whereby they 
signify the power and greatness of anything is magnifying/ 
And that whereby they signify the opinion they have of a 
man s felicity is by the Greeks called ij.axaptap.6s, for which 
we have no name in our tongue. And thus much is suf 
ficient for the present purpose, to have been said of the 
passions/ 

CHAPTER VII 
OF THE ENDS, OR RESOLUTIONS OF DISCOURSE 

OF all discourse/ governed by desire of knowledge there 
is at last an end/ either by attaining or by giving over. 
And in the chain of discourse, wheresoever it be interrupted, 
there is an end for that time. 

If the discourse be merely mental, it consisteth of thoughts 
that the thing will be, and will not be; or that it has been, 
and has not been, alternately. So that wheresoever you 
break off the chain of a man s discourse, you leave him in a 



360 - THOMAS HOBBES 

presumption of it will be/ or it will not be/ or it has 
been/ or has not been/ All which is opinion. And 
that which is alternate appetite in deliberating concerning 
good and evil, the same is alternate opinion in the enquiry 
of the truth of past and future/ And as the last ap 
petite in deliberation is called the will/ so the last opinion 
in search of the truth of past and future is called the judg 
ment or resolute and final sentence of him that dis- 
courseth/ And as the whole chain of appetites alternate, 
in the question of good or bad, is called deliberation/ so 
the whole chain of opinions alternate, in the question of 
true or false, is called doubt/ 

No discourse whatsoever can end in absolute knowledge 
of fact, past or to come. For, as for the knowledge of 
fact, it is originally sense; and ever after, memory. And 
for the knowledge of consequence, which I have said before 
is called science, it is not absolute, but conditional. No 
man can know by discourse that this or that is, has been, 
or will be which is to know absolutely; but only that 
if this be, that is ; if this has been, that has been, if this shall 
be, that shall be which is to know conditionally and that 
not the consequence of one thing to another, but of one 
name of a thing to another name of the same thing. 

And therefore, when the discourse is put into speech, 
and begins with the definitions of words, and proceeds by 
connection of the same into general affirmations, and of 
these again into syllogisms, the end or last sum is called 
the conclusion, and the thought of the mind by it signified 
is that conditional knowledge or knowledge of the conse 
quence of words, which is commonly called science/ But 
if the first ground of such discourse be not definitions, 
or if the definitions be not rightly joined together into 
syllogisms, then the end or conclusion is again opinion 
namely of the truth of somewhat said, though sometimes 
in absurd and senseless words, without possibility of being 
understood. When two or more men know of one and 
the same fact, they are said to be conscious/ of it one to 
another; which is as much as to know it together. And 
because such are fittest witnesses of the facts of one another 
or of a third, it was, and ever will be, reputed a very 



OF MAN 36! 

evil act for any man to speak against his conscience, 
or to corrupt or force another so to do: insomuch that the 
plea of conscience has been always hearkened unto very 
diligently in all times. Afterwards men made use of the 
same word metaphorically, for the knowledge of their own 
secret facts and secret thoughts; and therefore it is rhe 
torically said that the conscience is a thousand witnesses. 
And, last of all, men vehemently in love with their own 
opinions, though never so absurd, and obstinately bent to 
maintain them, gave those their opinions also that rever 
enced name of conscience, as if they would have it seem 
unlawful to change or speak against them, and so pretend 
to know they are true, when they know at most but that 
they think so. 

When a man s discourse beginneth not at definitions, 
it beginneth either at some other contemplation of his own, 
and then it is still called opinion; or it beginneth at some 
saying of another, of whose ability to know the truth and 
of whose honesty in not deceiving he doubteth not; and 
then the discourse is not so much concerning the thing as 
the person ; and the resolution is called belief, and 
faith faith in the man, belief both of the man and 
of the truth of what he says. So that in belief are two 
opinions; one of the saying of the man, the other of his 
virtue. To have faith in " or trust to or believe a 
man signify the same thing, namely, an opinion of the 
veracity of the man; but to believe what is said signifieth 
only an opinion of the truth of the saying. But we are 
to observe that this phrase. I believe in/ as also the Latin 
credo in, and the Greek ntffrio<u &? are never used but in 
the writings of divines. Instead of them in other writings 
are put I believe him/ I trust him/ I have faith in him/ 
I rely on him/ and in Latin credo illi, fido illi; and in 
Greek rctffriuto du r^J; and that this singularity of the ecclesias 
tic use of the word hath raised many disputes about the 
right object of the Christian faith. 

But by believing in/ as it is in the creed, is meant, not 
trust in the person, but confession and acknowledgment 
of the doctrine. For not only Christians but all manner of 
men do so believe in God as to hold all for truth they hear 



362 THOMAS HOBBES 

Him say, whether they understand it or not; which is all 
the faith and trust can possibly be had in any person what 
soever; but they do not all believe the doctrine of the creed. 
From whence we may infer that, when we believe any 
saying whatsoever it be to be true, from arguments taken 
not from the thing itself, or from the principles of natural 
reason, but from the authority and good opinion we have 
of him that hath said it, then is the speaker, or person we 
believe in or trust in, and whose word we take, the object 
of our faith, and the honour done in believing is done to 
him only. And consequently when we believe that the 
Scriptures are the word of God, having no immediate reve 
lation from God Himself, our belief, faith, and trust, is 
in the Church, whose word we take and acquiesce therein. 
And they that believe that which a prophet relates unto 
them in the name of God take the word of the prophet, do 
honour to him, and in him trust and believe, touching the 
truth of what he relateth, whether he be a true or a false 
prophet. And so it is also with all other history. For if 
I should not believe all that is written by historians of the 
glorious acts of Alexander or Caesar, I do not think the 
ghost of Alexander or Csesar had any just cause to be 
offended, or anybody else but the historian. If Livy say 
the gods made once a cow speak, and we believe it not, we 
distrust not God therein, but Livy. So that it is evident, 
that whatsoever we believe, upon no other reason than what 
is drawn from authority of men only, and their writings, 
whether they be sent from God or not, is faith in men only. 



CHAPTER VIII 

OF THE VIRTUES COMMONLY CALLED INTELLECTUAL, AND 
THEIR CONTRARY DEFECTS 

VIRTUE generally, in all sorts of subjects, is somewhat that 
is valued for eminence, and consisteth in comparison. For, 
if all things were equal in all men, nothing would be prized. 
And by virtues intellectual are always understood such 
abilities of the mind as men praise, value, and desire should 
be in themselves, and go commonly under the name of a 



OF MAN 363 

good wit,* though the same word wit be used also to 
distinguish one certain ability from the rest. 

These * virtues are of two sorts, natural and ac 
quired. By natural I mean not that which a man hath 
from his birth; for that is nothing else but sense, wherein 
men differ so little one from another and from brute beasts 
as it is not to be reckoned amongst virtues. But I mean 
that wit which is gotten by use only and experience ; 
without method, culture, or instruction. This natural wit 
consisteth principally in two things, celerity of imagining/ 
that is, swift succession of one thought to another, and 
steady direction to some approved end. On the contrary, a 
slow imagination maketh that defect or fault of the mind 
which is commonly called dulness/ stupidity/ and some 
times by other names that signify slowness of motion or 
difficulty to be moved. 

And this difference of quickness is caused by the differ 
ence of men s passions, that love and dislike, some one 
thing, some another; and therefore some men s thoughts 
run one way, some another; and are held to and observe 
differently the things that pass through their imagination. 
And whereas in this succession of men s thoughts there is 
nothing to observe in the things they think on, but either 
in what they be Mike one another/ or in what they be 
unlike/ or what they serve for/ or how they serve to 
such a purpose / those that observe their similitudes, in case 
they be such as are but rarely observed by others, are said 
to have a good wit/ by which in this occasion is meant a 
* good fancy/ But they that observe their differences and 
dissimilitudes, which is called distinguishing and dis 
cerning and judging between thing and thing, in case 
such discerning be not easy, are said to have a good judg 
ment/ and, particularly in matter of conversation and 
business, wherein times, places, and persons, are to be dis 
cerned, this virtue is called discretion/ The former, that 
is, fancy, without the help of judgment, is not commended 
as a virtue; but the latter, which is judgment and discretion, 
is commended for itself, without the help of fancy. Besides 
the discretion of times, places, and persons, necessary to 
a good fancy, there is required also an often application 



364 THOMAS HOBBES 

of his thoughts to their end, that is to say, to some use to 
be made of them. This done, he that hath this virtue will 
be easily fitted with similitudes that will please not only by 
illustrations of his discourse, and adorning it with new 
and apt metaphors, but also by the rarity of their invention. 
But without steadiness and direction to some end a great 
fancy is one kind of madness; such as they have that, enter 
ing into any discourse, are snatched from their purpose by 
everything that comes in their thought, into so many and so 
long digressions and parentheses that they utterly lose them 
selves which kind of folly I know no particular name for, 
but the cause of it is sometimes want of experience, where 
by that seemeth to a man new and rare which doth not so 
to others, sometimes pusillanimity, by which that seems 
great to him which other men think a trifle; and whatso 
ever is new or great, and therefore thought fit to be told, 
withdraws a man by degrees from the intended way of his 
discourse. 

In a good poem, whether it be epic or dramatic/ as 
also in sonnets/ epigrams/ and other pieces, both judg 
ment and fancy are required; but the fancy must be more 
eminent, because they please for the extravagancy, but ought 
not to displease by indiscretion. 

In a good history the judgment must be eminent, because 
the goodness consisteth in the method, in the truth, and 
in the choice of the actions that are most profitable to be 
known. Fancy has no place but only in adorning the style. 

In orations of praise, and in invectives, the fancy is pre 
dominant, because the design is not truth, but to honour 
or dishonour, which is done by noble or by vile com 
parisons. The judgment does but suggest what circum 
stances make an action laudable or culpable. 

In hortatives and pleadings, as truth or disguise serveth 
best to the design in hand, so is the judgment or the fancy 
most required. 

In demonstration, in counsel, and all rigorous search oi 
truth, judgment does all, except sometimes the understand 
ing have need to be opened by some apt similitude, and then 
there is so much use of fancy. But for metaphors, they 
are in this case utterly excluded. For seeing they openly 



OF MAN 36S 

profess deceit : to admit them into counsel or reasoning were 
manifest folly. 

And in any discourse whatsoever, if the defect of dis 
cretion be apparent, how extravagant soever the fancy 
be, the whole discourse will be taken for a sign of want of 
wit; and so will it never when the discretion is manifest, 
though the fancy be never so ordinary. 

The secret thoughts of a man run over all things, holy, 
profane, clean, obscene, grave, and light, without shame 
or blame; which verbal discourse cannot do farther than 
the judgment shall approve of the time, place, and per 
sons. An anatomist or a physician may speak or write 
his judgment of unclean things, because it is not to please 
but profit; but for another man to write his extravagant 
and pleasant fancies of the same is as if a man, from being 
tumbled into the dirt, should come and present ^ himself 
before good company. And it is the want of discretion 
that makes the difference. Again, in professed remissness 
of mind, and familiar company, a man may play with the 
sounds and equivocal significations of words, and that many 
times with encounters of extraordinary fancy; but in a 
sermon, or in public, or before persons unknown, or whom 
we ought to reverence, there is no jingling of words that 
will not be accounted folly; and the difference is only in 
the want of discretion. So that, where wit is wanting, it 
is not fancy that is wanting but discretion. Judgment 
therefore without fancy is wit, but fancy without judg 
ment, not. 

When the thoughts of a man that has a design in hand, 
running over a multitude of things, observes how they 
conduce to that design or what design they may conduce 
unto, if his observations be such as are not easy or usual, this 
wit of his is called prudence/ and depends on much ex 
perience and memory of the like things and their conse 
quences heretofore. In which there is not much difference 
of men as there is in their fancies and judgments, because 
the experience of men equal in age is not much unequal 
as to the quantity, but lies in different occasions, every 
one having his private designs. To govern well a family 
and a kingdom are not different degrees of prudence, but 



366 THOMAS HOBBES 

different sorts of business ; no more than to draw a picture 
in little, or as great or greater than the life, are different 
degrees of art. A plain husbandman is more prudent in 
affairs of his own house than a privy-councillor in the affairs 
of another man. 

To prudence, if you add the use of unjust or dishonest 
means, such as usually are prompted to men by fear or 
want, you have that crooked wisdom which is called craft/ 
which is a sign of pusillanimity. For magnanimity is con 
tempt of unjust or dishonest helps. And that which the 
Latins call versutia, translated into English shifting, and is 
a putting off of a present danger or incommodity by engaging 
into a greater, as when a man robs one to pay another, is 
but a short-sighted craft, called versuiia, from versura, which 
signifies taking money at usury for the present payment of 
interest. 

As for acquired wit/ I mean acquired by method and 
instruction, there is none but reason, which is grounded on 
the right use of speech, and produceth the sciences. But of 
reason and science I have already spoken, in the fifth and 
sixth chapters. 

The causes of this difference of wits are in the passions; 
and the difference of passions proceedeth partly from the 
different constitution of the body, and partly from differ 
ent education. For if the difference proceeded from the 
temper of the brain and the organs of sense, either exterior 
or interior, there would be no less difference of men in their 
sight, hearing, or other senses, than in their fancies and dis 
cretions. It proceeds therefore from the passions, which are 
different not only from the difference of men s complexions, 
but also from their difference of customs and education. 

The passions that most of all cause the difference of wit 
are principally the more or less desire of power, of riches, 
of knowledge, and of honour. All which may be reduced 
to the first, that is, desire of power. For riches, knowledge, 
and honour, are but several sorts of power. 

And, therefore, a man who has no great passion for any 
of these things, but is, as men term it, indifferent, though 
he may be so far a good man as to be free from giving 
offence, yet he cannot possibly have either a great fancy 



OF MAN 367 

cr much judgment. For the thoughts are to the desires as 
scouts and spies, to range abroad and find the way of the 
things desired, all steadiness of the mind s motion, and all 
quickness of the same, proceeding from thence; for as to 
have no desire is to be dead, so to have weak passions is 
dulness; and to have passions indifferently for everything, 
giddiness and distraction ; and to have stronger and more 
vehement passions for anything than is ordinarily seen in 
others is that which men call madness/ 

Whereof there be almost as many kinds as of the passions 
themselves. Sometimes the extraordinary and extravagant 
passion proceedeth from the evil constitution of the organs 
of the body, or harm done them ; and sometimes the hurt and 
indisposition of the organs is caused by the vehemence ( 
long continuance of the passion. But in both cases t 
madness is of one and the same nature. 

The passion whose violence, or continuance, maketh mad 
ness is either great vain-glory, which is commonly called 
pride and self-conceit/ or great dejection of mind. _ 

Pride subjecteth a man to anger, the excess whereof 
the madness called rage and fury/ And thus it come! 
to pass that excessive desire of revenge, when it 1 
habitual, hurteth the organs, and becomes rage; t 
cessive love, with jealousy, becomes also rage; ex. 
opinion of a man *, own self, for divine inspiration, f< 
dom learning, form and the like, becomes distraction and 
giddiness; the same, joined with envy, rage; vehemen 
ion of the truth of anything contradicted by others r 
Dejection subjects a man to causeless fears; whi 
madness; commonly called melancholy/ apparent also 
divers manners, as in haunting of solitudes and graves, 11 
superstitious behaviour, and in fearing, some one some ar 
other particular thing. In sum, all passions that prod 
strange and unusual behaviour are called by the gei 
name of madness. But of the several kinds of madr 
that would take the pains might enrol * legion. And 
excesses be madness, there is no doubt but the pa: 
themselves, when they tend to evil, are degrees of the same. 
For example, though the effect of ^ >\ them *" 
possessed of an opinion of being inspired be not vis 



368 THOMAS HOBBES 

always in one man by any very extravagent action that pro- 
ceedeth from such passion, yet, when many of them con 
spire together, the rage of the whole multitude is visible 
enough. For what argument of madness can there be greater 
than to clamour, strike, and throw stones at our best friends ? 
Yet this is somewhat less than such a multitude will do. For 
they will clamour, fight against, and destroy, those by whom 
all their lifetime before they have been protected and secured 
from injury. And if this be madness in the multitude, it is 
the same in every particular man. For, as in the midst of 
the sea though a man perceive no sound of that part of 
the water next him, yet he is well assured that part con 
tributes as much to the roaring of the sea as any other part 
of the same quantity, so also, though we perceive no great 
unquietness in one or two men, yet we may be well assured 
that their singular passions are parts of the seditious roar 
ing of a troubled nation. And if there were nothing else 
that bewrayed their madness, yet that very arrogating such 
inspiration to themselves is argument enough. If some man 
in Bedlam should entertain you with sober discourse, and 
you desire in taking leave, to know what he were, that you 
might another time requite his civility, and he should tell 
you he were God the Father, I think you need expect no 
extravagant action or argument of his madness. 

This opinion of inspiration, called commonly private 
spirit, begins very often from some lucky finding of an 
error generally held by others; and not knowing, or not 
remembering, by what conduct of reason they came to so 
singular a truth (as they think it, though it be many times 
an untruth they light on) they presently admire themselves, 
as being in the special grace of God Almighty, who hath 
revealed the same to them supernaturally by His Spirit. 

Again, that madness is nothing else but too much ap 
pearing passion may be gathered out of the effects of wine, 
which are the same with those of the evil disposition of the 
organs. For the variety of behaviour in men that have drunk 
too much is the same with that of madmen: some of them 
raging, others loving, others laughing, all extravagantly, 
but according to their several domineering passions ; for the 
effect of the wine does but remove dissimulation and take 



OF MAN 369 

from them the sight of the deformity of their passions. For 
I believe the most sober men, when they walk alone without 
care and employment of the mind, would be unwilling the 
vanity and extravagance of their thoughts at that time 
should be publicly seen ; which is a confession that passions 
unguided are for the most part mere madness. 

The opinions of the world, both in ancient and later 
ages, concerning the cause of madness have been two. 
Some deriving them from the passions ; some from demons, 
or spirits, either good or bad, which they thought might 
enter into a man, possess him, and move his organs in such 
strange and uncouth manner as madmen use to do. The 
former sort, therefore, called such men madmen; but 
latter called them sometimes demoniacs, that is, possessed 
with spirits; sometimes energumeni, that is, agitated or 
moved with spirits; and now in Italy they are called not 
only paszi, madmen, but also spiritati, men possessed. 

There was once a great conflux of people in Abdera, a 
city of the Greeks, at the acting of the tragedy of Andro 
meda upon an extreme hot day; whereupon a great many 
of the spectators falling into fevers had this accident fror 
the heat and from the tragedy together, that they du 
nothing but pronounce iambics, with the names 
seus and Andromeda; which, together with the fever, was 
cured by the coming on of winter; and this madness was 
thought to proceed from the passion imprinted by 
tragedy. Likewise there reigned a fit of madness in a 
other Grecian city, which seized only the young maidens, 
and caused many of them to hang themselves, 
by most then thought an act of the devil. But one th; 
suspected that contempt of life in them might proceed fror 
some passion of the mind, and supposing that they did nd 
contemn also their honour, gave counsel to the magistrate 

to strip such as so hanged themselves, and let them hang 
out naked. This, the story says, cured that madnes 

the other side, the same Grecians did often ascribe 






on tne otner siue, tuc a<uu^ . , 

madness to the operation of Eumenides or Furies, and 
sometimes of Ceres, Phcebus, and other gods 

men attribute to phantasms as to flunk them aenal living 

bodies and generally to call them spirits. And as 



370 THOMAS HOBBES 

Romans in this held the same opinion with the Greeks, so 
also did the Jews, for they called madmen prophets, or, 
according as they thought the spirits good or bad, de 
moniacs; and some of them called both prophets and 
demoniacs madmen; and some called the same man both 
demoniac and madman. But for the Gentiles it is no won 
der, because diseases and health, vices and virtues, and 
many natural accidents, were with them termed and wor 
shipped as demons. So that a man was to understand by 
demon as well sometimes an ague as a devil. But for 
the Jews to have such opinion is somewhat strange. For 
neither Moses nor Abraham pretended to prophesy by pos 
session of a spirit; but from the voice of God, or by a 
vision or dream; nor is there anything in his law, moral 
or ceremonial, by which they were taught there was any 
such enthusiasm or any possession. When God is said 
(Numb, xi. 25) to take from the spirit that was in Moses, 
and give to the seventy elders, the Spirit of God (taking 
it for the substance of God) is not divided. The Scriptures 
by the Spirit of God in man mean a man s spirit, inclined 
to godliness. And where it is said (Exod. xxviii. 3) 
whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom to make 
garments for Aaron is not meant a spirit put into them 
that can make garments, but the wisdom of their own 
spirits in that kind of work. In the like sense, the spirit 
of man, when it produceth unclean actions, is ordinarily 
called an unclean spirit, and so other spirits, though not 
always, yet as often as the virtue or vice so styled is 
extraordinary and eminent. Neither did the other prophets 
of the Old Testament pretend enthusiasm, or that God spake 
in them, but to them, by voice, vision, or dream; and the 
* burthen of the Lord* was not possession, but command. 
How then could the Jews fall into this opinion of posses 
sion ? I can imagine no reason but that which is common to 
all men, namely the want of curiosity to search natural 
causes, and their placing felicity in the acquisition of the 
gross pleasures of the senses and the things that most 
immediately conduce thereto. For they that see any strange 
and unusual ability or defect in a man s mind, unless they 
see withal from what cause it may probably proceed, can 



OF MAN 371 

hardly think it natural; and, if not natural, they must 
needs think it supernatural; and then what can it be but 
that either God or the devil is in him? And hence it came 
to pass, when our Saviour (Mark in, 21) was compassed 
about with the multitude, those of the house doubted He 
was mad, and went out to hold Him; but the Scribes said 
He had Beelzebub, and that was it by which He cast out 
devils; as if the greater madman had awed the lesser; and 
that (John x, 20) some said He hath a devil, and is mad/ 
whereas others holding Him for a prophet said these are 
not the words of one that hath a devil. So in the Old 
Testament he that came to anoint Jehu (2 Kings ix, 11) 
was a prophet ; but some of the company asked Jehu * what 
came that madman for ? So that in sum it is manifest 
that whosoever behaved himself in extraordinary manner 
was thought by the Jews to be possessed either with a good 
or evil spirit, except by the Sadducees, who erred so far 
on the other hand as not to believe there were at all any 
spirits, which is very near to direct atheism; and thereby 
perhaps the more provoked others to term such men 
demoniacs rather than madmen. 

But why then does our Saviour proceed in the curing 
of them, as if they were possessed, and not as if they were 
mad? To which I can give no other kind of answer but 
that which is given to those that urge the Scripture in 
like manner against the opinion of the motion of the earth. 
The Scripture was written to show unto men the kingdom 
of God, and to prepare their minds to become his obedient 
subjects, leaving the world, and the philosophy thereof to 
the disputation of men, for the exercising of their natural 
reason. Whether the earth s or sun s motion make the 
day and night, or whether the exorbitant action of men 
proceed from passion or from the devil, so we worship 
him not, it is all one, as to our obedience and subjection 
to God Almighty; which is the thing for which the Scrip 
ture was written. As for that our Saviour speaketh to the 
disease as to a person, it is the usual phrase of all that cure 
by words only, as Christ did and enchanters pretend to do, 
whether they speak to a devil or not. For is not Christ 
also said (Matt, viii, 26) to have rebuked the winds? Is 



372 THOMAS HOBBES 

not He said also (Luke iv, 39) to rebuke a fever? Yet 
this does not argue that a fever is a devil. And whereas 
many of the devils are said to confess Christ, it is not neces 
sary to interpret those places otherwise than that those 
madmen confessed Him. And whereas our Saviour (Matt. 
xii, 43) speaketh of an unclean spirit, that having gone 
out of a man wandereth through dry places, seeking rest 
and finding none, and returning into the same man with 
seven other spirits worse than himself, it is manifestly a 
parable alluding to a man that after a little endeavour to 
quit his lusts is vanquished by the strength of them, and 
becomes seven times worse than he was. So that I see 
nothing at all in the Scripture that requireth a belief that 
demoniacs were any other thing but madmen. 

There is yet another fault in the discourses of some 
men, which may also be numbered amongst the sorts of 
madness, namely that abuse of words, whereof I have 
spoken before in the fifth chapter, by the name of ab 
surdity. And that is when men speak such words as, put 
together, have in them no signification at all, but are fallen 
upon by some, through misunderstanding of the words they 
have received and repeat by rote, by others from intention 
to deceive by obscurity. And this is incident to none but 
those that converse in questions of matters incomprehensible, 
as the schoolmen, or in questions of abstruse philosophy. 
The common sort of men seldom speak insignificantly, and 
are therefore by those other egregious persons counted idiots. 
But, to be assured their words are without anything cor 
respondent to them in the mind, there would need some ex 
amples, which if any man require, let him take a schoolman 
in his hands and see if he can translate any one chapter 
concerning any difficult point, as the Trinity, the Deity, the 
nature of Christ, transubstantiation, free-will, etc., into any 
of the modern tongues, so as to make the same intelligible, 
or into any tolerable Latin, such as they were acquainted 
withal, that lived when the Latin tongue was vulgar. What 
is the meaning of these words : * The first cause does not 
necessarily inflow anything into the second, by force of the 
essential subordination of the second causes, by which it may 
help it to work? They are the translation of the title of 



OF MAN 373 

the sixth chapter of Suarez, first book, Of the Concourse, 
Motion, and Help of God. When men write whole volumes 
of such stuff, are they not mad, or intend to make others 
so? And particularly in the question of transubstantia- 
tion, where, after certain words spoken, they that say 
the whiteness, roundn^^ magnitude, quality, corruptibility, 
all which are incorporeal, etc., go out of the wafer into 
the body of our blessed Saviour, do they not make those 
nesses/ tudes/ and ties to be so many spirits possessing 
his body? For by spirits they mean always things that, 
being incorporeal, are nevertheless movable from one place 
to another. So that this kind of absurdity may rightly be 
numbered amongst the many sorts of madness, and all the 
time that guided by clear thoughts of their worldly lust 
they forbear disputing or writing thus, but lucid intervals. 
And thus much of the virtues and defects intellectual. 



CHAPTER IX 
OP THE SEVERAL SUBJECTS OF KNOWLEDGE 

THERE are of knowledge two kinds, whereof one is 
knowledge of fact, the other knowledge of the consequence 
of one affirmation to another/ The former is nothing else 
but sense and memory, and is absolute knowledge/ as 
when we see a fact doing or remember it done; and this 
is the knowledge required in a witness. The latter is called 
science/ and is conditional/ as when we know that if 
the figure shown be a circle, then any straight line through 
the centre shall divide it into two equal parts/ 1 And this 
is the knowledge required in a philosopher, that is to say 
of him that pretends to reasoning. 

The register of knowledge of fact is called history, 
whereof there be two sorts: one called natural history/ 
which is the history of such facts or effects of Nature 
as have no dependence on man s will/ such as are the 
histories of metals/ plants/ animals/ regions/ and the 
like. The other is civil history/ which is the history of 
the voluntary actions of men in commonwealths. 

The registers of science are such books/ as contain 



374 THOMAS HOBBES 

the demonstrations of consequences of one affirmation to 
another, and are commonly called * books of philosophy/ 
whereof the sorts are many, according to the diversity of 
the matter, and may be divided in such manner as I have 
divided them in the following table (pp. 376-377). 



CHAPTER X 
OF POWER, WORTH, DIGNITY, HONOUR, AND WORTHINESS 

THE power of a man/ to take it universally, is his 
present means, to obtain some future apparent good; and 
is either original or instrumental/ 

Natural power is the eminence of the faculties of body 
or mind, as extraordinary strength, form, prudence, arts, 
eloquence, liberality, nobility. Instrumental are those 
powers which, acquired by these or by fortune are means 
and instruments to acquire more, as riches, reputation, 
friends, and the secret working of God, which men call 
good luck. For the nature of power is in this point like 
to fame, increasing as it proceeds; or like the motion of 
heavy bodies, which the further they go make still the 
more haste. 

The greatest of human powers is that which is com 
pounded of the powers of most men, united by consent, 
in one person, natural or civil, that has the use of all their 
powers depending on his will such as is the power of a 
commonwealth. Or depending on the wills of each par 
ticular, such as is the power of a faction or of divers 
factions leagued. Therefore to have servants is power; to 
have friends is power ; for they are strengths united. 

Also riches joined with liberality is power, because it 
procureth friends and servants; without liberality, not so; 
because in this case they defend not, but expose men to 
envy, as a prey. 

Reputation of power is power, because it draweth with 
it the adherence of those that need protection. 

So is reputation of love of a man s country, called popu 
larity, for the same reason. 

Also, what quality soever maketh a man beloved or feared 






OF MAN 375 

of many, or the reputation of such quality, is power, because 
it is a means to have the assistance and service of many. 

Good success is power, because it maketh reputation of 
wisdom or good fortune, which makes men either fear 
him or rely on him. 

Affability of men already in power is increase of power, 
because it gaineth love. 

Reputation of prudence in the conduct of peace or war 
is power, because to prudent men we commit the govern 
ment of ourselves more willingly than to others. 

Nobility is power, not in all places but only in those 
commonwealths where it has privileges, for in such privi 
leges consisteth their power. 

Eloquence is power, because it is seeming prudence. 

Form is power, because, being a promise of good, it 
recommendeth men to the favour of women and strangers. 

The sciences are small power, because not eminent and 
therefore not acknowledged in any man; nor are at all, but 
in a few, and in them but of a few things. For science is 
of that nature as none can understand it to be but such as 
in a good measure have attained it. 

Arts of public use, as fortification, making of engines, 
and other instruments of war, because they confer to de 
fence and victory, are power; and though the true mother 
of them be science, namely the mathematics, yet, because 
they are brought into the light by the hand of the artificer, 
they be esteemed, the midwife passing with the vulgar for 
the mother, as his issue. 

The value," or worth/ of a man is, as of all other 
things, his price ; that is to say, so much as would be given 
for the use of his power; and therefore is not absolute, 
but a thing dependent on the need and judgment of another. 
An able conductor of soldiers is of great price in time of 
war present, or imminent; but in peace not so. A learned 
and uncorrupt judge is much worth in time of peace, but 
not so much in war. And, as in other things so in men, not 
the seller but the buyer determines the price. For let a man, 
as most men do, rate themselves [himself] at the highest 
value they [he] can, yet their [his] true value is no mor 
than it is esteemed by others. 



376 



THOMAS HOBBES 



/""Consequences from the accidents common to 
all bodies natural; which are quantity and 
motion 





^Consequences 






from the 






accidents of 






bodies nat 






ural: which 






is called* 






NATURAL 






PHILOSOPHY 










"Consequences from the qualities 








of bodies transient, such as 








sometimes appear, sometimes 








vanish, Meteorology 


SCIENCE, 

that is 
knowledge 
of conse 
quences, 
which is 
called also 

PHILOSOPHY 




PHYSICS 
or conse 
quences 
from qual- 
_ ities 


Conse 
quences 
from the 
qualities " 


Consequences from 
the qualities of 
the stars 
Consequences of the 
qualities from 
liquid bodies, that 
fill the space be 
tween the stars, 






of bodies 


such as are the 






permanent 


air or substances 






,. 


ethereal 






Consequences from 






the qualities of 




f"*/-*c*aniiia*ii**e 


bodies terrestrial 









T J - 

/Vr tn 

ies, whichj 
is called] 
POLITICS, 2 - 
and CIVIL 1 
^ PHILOSOPHY *- 



f consequences from the institution of 
COMMONWEALTHS, to the rights and 
duties of the bod y t tttic or sovereign 



Of consequences from the same, 
duty and right of the subjects 



to the 



OF MAN 



377 



^Consequences from quantity, and motion indeterminate ( 
which, being the principles or first foundation of phi- ^ HILOSOPHIA 
losophy, is called Philosophia Prima 1 PRIMA 




Consequences r By Figure i 
from quan 
tity, a n d< 
motion de 
termined LBy Number J 


^Mathematics 


\ 

C METRY 
THMETIC 




Consequences" 










from the 










motion and 






Consequences 
from motion 
and quan-< 
tity deter 




quantity of 
the greater 
parts of the 
world, as 


.Cosmography 


j ASTRONOMY 
{ GEOGRAPHY 


mined 




the earth 








* 


and stars 














IS den re 




Consequences 
from the 
motion, and 
quantity of 
bodies in 
* special 


Consequences"^ 
from the mo 
tion of spe 
cial kinds, 
and figures i 
* of body J 


Mechanics 
> Doctrine of 
weight 


o c lence 
of ENGI 
NEERS 
ARCHITEC 
TURE 
NAVI CA 
TION 






METEOROLOGY 



j Consequences from the light of the stars. Out of this c 
I and the motion of the sun, is made the science of h bcioGRAPHY 

( Consequences from the influences of the stars . ASTROLOGY 

Consequences rConsequences from the qualities of minerals 

from the as stones, metals, etc. 

parts of thel 

earth that] 

are without 

sense ^ Consequences from the qualities of vegetables 

rConsequences ^Consequences from vision OPTICS 

f r o m the I Consequences from sounds Music 





qualities ofs 








animals in Consequences 


from the rest 






general L. of the senses 


Consequences 
from the* 




Consequences from the pas 
sions of men .... 


ETHICS 


qualities of 










animals 


Consequences 
from the" 
qualities of 
men in 
special 


Consequences 
from speech* 


tin magnifying, 
vilifying, etc. 
In persuading 
In reasoning 
In contracting. 


- POETRY 
RHETORIC 
LOGIC 
The Science 


^ ^ 




of JUST and 






UNJUST 



378 THOMAS HOBBES 

The manifestation of the value we set on one another is 
that which is commonly called honouring and dishonouring. 
To value a man at a high rate is to honour him ; at a low 
rate, to dishonour him. But high and low, in this case, is 
to be understood by comparison to the rate that each man 
setteth on himself. 

The public worth of a man, which is the value set on him 
by the commonwealth, is that which men commonly call 
dignity. And this value of him by the commonwealth is 
understood by offices of command, judicature, public em 
ployment, or by names and titles introduced for distinction 
of such value. 

To pray to another for aid of any kind is to honour/ 
because a sign we have an opinion he has power to help ; and 
the more difficult the aid is, the more is the honour. 

To obey is to honour, because no man obeys them whom 
they think have no power to help or hurt them. And conse 
quently to disobey is to dishonour. 

To give great gifts to a man is to honour him, because 
it is buying of protection and acknowledging of power. 
To give little gifts is to dishonour, because it is but alms 
and signifies an opinion of the need of small helps. 

To be sedulous in promoting another s good, also to flatter 
is to honour, as a sign we seek his protection or aid. To 
neglect is to dishonour. 

To give way or place to another in any commodity is to 
honour, being a confession of greater power. To arrogate 
is to dishonour. 

To show any sign of love or fear of another is to honour, 
for both to love and to fear is to value. To contemn, or 
less to love or fear than he expects, is to dishonour, for it 
is undervaluing. 

To praise, magnify, or call happy, is to honour, because 
nothing but goodness, power, and felicity, is valued. To 
revile, mock, or pity, is to dishonour. 

To speak to another with consideration, to appear before 
him with decency, and humility, is to honour him, as signs 
of fear to offend. To speak to him rashly, to do anything 
before him obscenely, slovenly, impudently, is to dishonour. 

To believe, to trust, to rely on another, is to honour him, 



OF MAN 379 

sign of opinion of his virtue and power. To distrust, or not 
believe, is to dishonour. 

To hearken to a man s counsel or discourse, of what kind 
soever, is to honour, as a sign we think him wise, or elo 
quent, or witty. To sleep, or go forth, or talk the while, is 
to dishonour. 

To do those things to another which he takes for signs of 
honour, or which the law or custom makes so, is to honour, 
because in approving the honour done by others he ac- 
knowledgeth the power which others acknowledge. To re 
fuse to do them is to dishonour. 

To agree with in opinion is to honour, as being a sign of 
approving his judgment and wisdom. To dissent is dis 
honour, and an upbraiding of error, and, if the dissent be in 
many things, of folly. 

To imitate is to honour, for it is vehemently to approve. 
To imitate one s enemy, is to dishonour. 

To honour those another honours is to honour him, as a 
sign of approbation of his judgment. To honour his ene 
mies is to dishonour him. 

To employ in counsel or in actions of difficulty is to hon 
our, as a sign of opinion of his wisdom or other power. 
To deny employment in the same cases to those that seek 
it is to dishonour. 

All these ways of honouring are natural, and as well 
within as without commonwealths. But in commonwealths, 
where he or they that have the supreme authority can make 
whatsoever they please to stand for signs of honour, there 
be other honours. 

A sovereign doth honour a subject with whatsoever title, 
or office, or employment, or action, that he himself will have 
taken for a sign of his will to honour him. 

The King of Persia honoured Mordecai when he ap 
pointed he should be conducted through the streets in the 
king s garment upon one of the king s horses, with a crown 
on his head and a prince before him, proclaiming Thus 
shall it be done to him that the king will honour. And 
yet another king of Persia, or the same another time, to 
one that demanded for some great service to wear one of 
the king s robes, gave him leave so to do ; but with this ad- 



380 THOMAS HOBBES 

dition, that he should wear it as the king s fool; and then it 
was dishonour. So that of civil honour the fountain is in 
the person of the commonwealth, and dependeth on the will 
of the sovereign; and is therefore temporary, and called 
civil honour/ such as magistracy, offices, titles, and, in 
some places, coats and scutcheons painted; and men honour 
such as have them, as having so many signs of favour in 
the commonwealth : which favour is power. 

Honourable is whatsoever possession, action, or quality, 
is an argument and sign of power. 

And therefore to be honoured, loved, or feared of many, 
is honourable, as arguments of power. To be honoured of 
few or none, dishonourable. 

Dominion and victory is honourable, because acquired by 
power; and servitude, for need or fear, is dishonourable. 

Good fortune, if lasting, honourable, as a sign of the 
favour of God. Ill fortune and losses dishonourable. Riches 
are honourable, for they are power. Poverty, dishonoura 
ble. Magnanimity, liberality, hope, courage, confidence, are 
honourable, for they proceed from the conscience of power. 
Pusillanimity, parsimony, fear, diffidence, are dishonourable. 

Timely resolution, or determination of what a man is to 
do, is honourable, as being the contempt of small difficul 
ties and dangers. And irresolution, dishonourable, as a 
sign of too much valuing of little impediments and little 
advantages; for when a man has weighed^ things as long 
as the time permits, and resolves not, the difference of 
weight is but little, and therefore, if he resolve not, he over 
values little things, which is pusillanimity. 

All actions and speeches that proceed, or seem to proceed, 
from much experience, science, discretion, or wit, are hon 
ourable, for all these are powers. Actions or words that 
proceed from error, ignorance, or folly, dishonourable. 

Gravity, as far forth as it seems to proceed from a mind 
employed on something else, is honourable, because employ 
ment is a sign of power. But, if it seem to proceed from 
a purpose to appear grave, it is dishonourable. For the 
gravity of the former is like the steadiness of a ship laden 
with merchandise, but of the latter like the steadiness of a 
ship ballasted with sand and other trash. 






OF MAN 38i 

To be conspicuous, that is to say to be known, for 
wealth, office, great actions, or any eminent good, is 
honourable, as a sign of the power for which he is con 
spicuous. On the contrary, obscurity is dishonourable. 

To be descended from conspicuous parents is honourable, 
because they the more easily attain the aids and friends of 
their ancestors. On the contrary, to be descended from ob 
scure parentage is dishonourable. 

Actions proceeding from equity joined with loss are hon 
ourable, as signs of magnanimity; for magnanimity is a 
sign of power. On the contrary, craft, shifting, neglect of 
equity, is dishonourable. 

Covetousness of great riches, and ambition of great hon 
ours are honourable, as signs of power to obtain them. 
Covetousness and ambition of little gains or preferments is 
dishonourable. 

Nor does it alter the case of honour whether an action, 
so it be great and difficult and consequently a sign of much 
power, be just or unjust; for honour consisteth only in the 
opinion of power. Therefore the ancient heathen did not 
think they dishonoured, but greatly honoured, the gods when 
they introduced them in their poems committing rapes, 
thefts, and other great but unjust or unclean acts; insomuch 
as nothing is so much celebrated in Jupiter as his adulteries; 
nor in Mercury as his frauds and thefts: of whose praises, 
in a hymn of Homer, the greatest is this, that, being born 
in the morning, he had invented music at noon, and before 
night stolen away the cattle of Apollo from his herdsmen. 

Also amongst men, till there were constituted great com 
monwealths, it was thought no dishonour to be a pirate or a 
highway thief, but rather a lawful trade, not only amongst 
the Greeks but also amongst all other nations as is manifest 
by the histories of ancient time. And at this day, in this 
part of the world, private duels are and always will be hon 
ourable, though unlawful, till such time as there shall be 
honour ordained for them that refuse, and ignominy for 
them that make the challenge. For duels also are many 
times effects of courage, and the ground of courage is al 
ways strength or skill, which are power; though for the 
most part they be effects of rash speaking and of the fear 



382 THOMAS HOBBES 

of dishonour, in one or both the combatants, who, engaged 
by rashness, are driven into the lists to avoid disgrace. 

Scutcheons and coats of arms hereditary, where they have 
any eminent privileges, are honourable; otherwise not: for 
their power consisteth either in such privileges, or in riches, 
or some such thing as is equally honoured in other men. 
This kind of honour, commonly called gentry, hath been 
derived from tha ancient Germans. For there never was 
any such thing known where the German customs were un 
known. Nor is it now anywhere in use where the Germans 
have not inhabited. The ancient Greek commanders, when 
they went to war, had their shields painted with such de 
vices as they pleased; insomuch that an unpainted buckler 
was a sign of poverty and of a common soldier; but they 
transmitted not the inheritance of them. The Romans trans 
mitted the marks of their families: but they were the images, 
not the devices, of their ancestors. Amongst the people of 
Asia, Africa, and America, there is not, nor was ever, any 
such thing. The Germans only had that custom; from 
whom it has been derived into England, France, Spain, and 
Italy, when in great numbers they either aided the Romans 
or made their own conquests in these western parts of the 
world. 

For Germany, being anciently, as all other countries in 
their beginnings, divided amongst an infinite number of little 
lords, or masters of families, that continually had wars one 
with another, those masters, or lords, principally to the end 
they might when they were covered with arms be known by 
their followers, and partly for ornament, both painted their 
armour or their scutcheon or coat with the picture of some 
beast or other thing, and also put some eminent and visible 
mark upon the crest of their helmets. And this ornament 
both of the arms and crest descended by inheritance to their 
children; to the eldest pure, and to the rest with some note 
of diversity, such as the old master, that is to say in Dutch, 
the Here-alt, thought fit. But when many such families, 
joined together, made a greater monarchy, this duty of the 
Here-alt to distinguish scutcheons was made a private office 
apart. And the issue of these lords is the great and ancient 
gentry, which for the most part bear living creatures, noted 



OF MAN 383 

for courage and rapine; or castles, battlements, belts, weap 
ons, bars, palisadoes, and other notes of war; nothing be 
ing then in honour but virtue military. Afterwards not 
only kings but popular commonwealths gave divers manners 
of scutcheons to such as went forth to the war, or returned 
from it, for encouragement or recompense to their service. 
All which, by an observing reader, may be found in such 
ancient histories, Greek and Latin, as make mention of the 
German nation and manners in their times. 

Titles of honour/ such as are duke, count, marquis, and 
baron, are honourable, as signifying the value set upon them 
by the sovereign power of the commonwealth; which titles 
were in old time titles of office and command, derived some 
from the Romans, some from the Germans and French: 
dukes, in Latin duces, being generals in war ; counts, comites, 
such as bear the general company out of friendship and 
were left to govern and defend places conquered and paci 
fied; marquises, marchiones, were counts that governed the 
marches or bounds of the empire. Which titles of duke, 
count, and marquis, came into the empire about the time of 
Constantine the Great, from the customs of the German 
militia. But baron seems to have been a title of the Gauls, 
and signifies a great man, such as were the king s or prince s 
men, whom they employed in war about their persons, and 
seems to be derived from vir, to ber, and bar/ that signi 
fied the same in the language of the Gauls, that vir in Latin, 
and thence to bero and baro so that such men were called 
berones/ and after barones/ and in Spanish, varones. But 
he that would know more particularly the original of titles 
of honour may find it, as I have done this, in Mr. Selden s 
most excellent treatise of that subject. In process of time 
these offices of honour, by occasion of trouble and for rea 
sons of good and peaceable government, were turned into 
mere titles, serving for the most part to distinguish the prece 
dence, place, and order of subjects in the commonwealths; 
and men were made dukes, counts, marquises and barons, 
of places wherein they had neither possession nor command ; 
and other titles also were devised to the same end. 

Worthiness is a thing different from the worth or value 
of a man, and also from his merit, or desert, and consisteth 






384 THOMAS HOBBES 

in a particular power or ability for that whereof he is said 
to be worthy: which particular ability is usually named 
fitness/ or aptitude/ 

For he is worthiest to be a commander, to be a judge, or 
to have any other charge, that is best fitted with the qualities 
required to the well discharging of it; and worthiest of 
riches that has the qualities most requisite for the well using 
of them : any of which qualities being absent, one may never 
theless be a worthy man, and valuable for something else. 
Again, a man may be worthy of riches, office, and employ 
ment, and nevertheless can plead no right to have it before 
another; and therefore cannot be said to merit or deserve 
it. For merit presupposeth a right and that the thing de 
served is due by promise; of which I shall say more here 
after, when I shall speak of contracts. 



CHAPTER XI 

OF THE DIFFERENCE OF MANNERS 

BY manners I mean not here decency of behaviour, as how 
one man should salute another, or how a man should wash his 
mouth, or pick his teeth before company, and such other 
points of the small morals ; but those qualities of mankind 
that concern their living together in peace and unity. To 
which end we are to consider that the felicity of this life 
consisteth not in the repose of a mind satisfied. For there 
is no such finis ultimus (utmost aim), nor summum bonum 
(greatest good), as is spoken of in the books of the old 
moral philosophers. Nor can a man any more live whose de 
sires are at an end than he whose senses and imaginations 
are at a stand. Felicity is a continual progress of the de 
sire from one object to another, the attaining of the former 
being still but the way to the latter. The cause whereof is 
that the object of man s desire is not to enjoy once only and ; 
for one instant of time, but to assure for ever the way of his 
future desire. And therefore the voluntary actions and in-, 
clinations of all men tend not only to the procuring, but also 
to the assuring, of a contented life, and differ only in the 
way; which ariseth partly from the diversity of passions in 






OF MAN 385 

divers men, and partly from the difference of the knowledge 
or opinion each one has of the causes which produce the 
effect desired. 

So that in the first place I put for a general inclination of 
all mankind a perpetual and restless desire of power after 
power, that ceaseth only in death. And the cause of this is 
not always that a man hopes for a more intensive delight 
than he has already attained to, or that he cannot be con 
tent with a moderate power; but because he cannot assure 
the power and means to live well which he hath present, 
without the acquisition of more. And from hence it is that 
kings, whose power is greatest, turn their endeavours to the 
assuring it at home by laws, or abroad by wars; and, when 
that is done, there succeedeth a new desire, in some of fame 
from new conquest, in others of ease and sensual pleasure, 
in others of admiration or being flattered for excellence in 
some art or other ability of the mind. 

Competition of riches, honour, command, or other power, 
inclineth to contention, enmity, and war; because the way 
of one competitor, to the attaining of his desire, is to kill, 
subdue, supplant, or repel the other. Particularly, compe 
tition of praise inclineth to a reverence of antiquity. For 
men contend with the living, not with the dead, to these 
ascribing more than due, that they may obscure the glory 
of the other. 

Desire of ease, and sensual delight, disposeth men to obey 
a common power, because by such desires a man doth aban 
don the protection that might be hoped for from his own 
industry and labour. Fear of death, and wounds, disposeth 
to the same, and for the same reason. On the contrary, 
needy men, and hardy, not contented with their present con 
dition, as also all men that are ambitious of military com 
mand, are inclined to continue the cause of war, and to 
stir up trouble and sedition, for there is no honour military 
but by war, nor any such hope to mend an ill game as by 
causing a new shuffle. 

Desire of knowledge, and arts of peace, inclineth men to 
obey a common power; for such desire, containeth a desire 
of leisure, and consequently protection from some other 
power than their own. 

( M ) HC XXXIV 



386 THOMAS HOBBES 

Desire of praise disposeth to laudable actions, such as 
please them whose judgment they value; for, of those men 
whom we contemn, we contemn also the praises. Desire of 
fame after death does th same. And though after death 
there be no sense of the praise given us on earth, as 
being joys that are either swallowed up in the unspeakable 
joys of Heaven or extinguished in the extreme torments of 
hell, yet is not such fame vain; because men have a present 
delight therein, from the foresight of it, and of the benefit 
that may redound thereby to their posterity, which, though 
they now see not, yet they imagine; and anything that is 
pleasure in the sense, the same also is pleasure in the imag 
ination. 

To have received from one to whom we think ourselves 
equal greater benefits than there is hope to requite disposeth 
to counterfeit love, but really secret hatred ; and puts a man 
into the estate of a desperate debtor that, in declining the 
sight of his creditor, tacitly wishes him there where he 
might never see him more. For benefits oblige, and obliga 
tion is thraldom, and unrequitable obligation perpetual 
thraldom, which is to one s equal, hateful. But to have re 
ceived benefits from one whom we acknowledge for superior 
inclines to love ; because the obligation is no new depression : 
and cheerful acceptation, which men call gratitude/ is such 
an honour done to the obliger as is taken generally for 
retribution. Also to receive benefits, though from an equal 
or inferior, as long as there is hope of requital, disposeth to 
love; for, in the intention of the receiver, the obligation is of 
aid and service mutual, from whence proceedeth an emula 
tion of who shall exceed in benefiting, the most noble and 
profitable contention possible, wherein the victor is pleased 
with his victory, and the other revenged by confessing it. 

To have done more hurt to a man than he can or is willing 
to expiate inclineth the doer to hate the sufferer. For he 
must expect revenge or forgiveness, both which are hateful. 

Fear of oppression disposeth a man to anticipate or to 
seek aid by society; for there is no other way by which a 
man can secure his life and liberty. 

Men that distrust their own subtilty are, in tumult and 
sedition, better disposed for victory than they that suppose 









OF MAN 387 

themselves wise or crafty. For these love to consult the 
other, fearing to be circumvented, to strike, first. And in 
sedition, men being always in the precincts of battle, to hold 
together and use all advantages of force is a better stratagem 
than any that can proceed from subtilty of wit. 

Vain-glorious men, such as without being conscious to 
themselves of great sufficiency delight in supposing them 
selves gallant men, are inclined only to ostentation, but not 
to attempt; because, when danger or difficulty appears, they 
look for nothing but to have their insufficiency discovered. 

Vain-glorious men, such as estimate their sufficiency by 
the flattery of other men or the fortune of some precedent 
action, without assured ground of hope from the true knowl 
edge of themselves, are inclined to rash engaging, and in 
the approach of danger or difficulty to retire if they can; 
because, not seeing the way of safety, they will rather haz 
ard their honour, which may be salved with an excuse, than 
their lives, for which no salve is sufficient. 

Men that have a strong opinion of their own wisdom in 
matter of government are disposed to ambition. Because 
without public employment in council or magistracy the 
honour of the wisdom is lost. And therefore eloquent 
speakers are inclined to ambition, for eloquence seemeth 
wisdom, both to themselves and others. 

Pusillanimity disposeth men to irresolution, and conse 
quently to lose the occasions and fittest opportunities of ac 
tion. For after men have been in deliberation till the time 
of action approach, if it be not then manifest what is best 
to be done, it is a sign the difference of motives, the one 
way and the other, are not great: therefore not to resolve 
then is to lose the occasion by weighing of trifles, which is 
pusillanimity. 

Frugality, though in poor men a virtue, maketh a man 
unapt to achieve such actions as require the strength of 
many men at once ; for it weakeneth their endeavour, which 
is to be nourished and kept in vigour by reward. 

Eloquence, with flattery disposeth men to confide in them 
that have it; because the former is seeming wisdom, the 
latter seeming kindness. Add to them military reputation, 
and it disposeth men to adhere and subject themselves to 



388 THOMAS HOBBES 

those men that have them. The two former having given 
them caution against danger from him, the latter gives them 
caution against danger from others. 

Want of science, that is, ignorance of causes, disposeth, 
or rather constraineth, a man to rely on the advice and au 
thority of others. For all men whom the truth concerns, if 
they rely not on their own, must rely on the opinion of some 
other whom they think wiser than themselves and see not 
why he should deceive them. 

Ignorance of the signification of words, which is want of 
understanding, disposeth men to take on trust not only the 
truth they know not, but also the errors, and which is more, 
the nonsense of them they trust; for neither error nor non 
sense can, without a perfect understanding of words, be 
detected. 

From the same it proceedeth that men give different names 
to one and the same thing, from the difference of their own 
passions: as they that approve a private opinion call it 
opinion, but they that mislike it, heresy: and yet heresy 
signifies no more than private opinion, but has only a greater 
tincture of choler. 

From the same also it proceedeth that men cannot dis 
tinguish, without study and great understanding, between 
one action of many men and many actions of one multitude; 
as for example, between the one action of all the senators of 
Rome in killing Catiline, and the many actions of a number 
of senators in killing Caesar; and therefore are disposed to 
take for the action of the people that which is a multitude 
of actions done by a multitude of men, led perhaps by the 
persuasion of one. 

Ignorance of the causes and original constitution of right, 
equity, law, and justice, disposeth a man to make custom and 
example the rule of his actions; in such manner as to think 
that unjust which it hath been the custom to punish, and 
that just of the impunity and approbation whereof they can 
produce an example, or, as the lawyers which only use this 
false measure of justice barbarously call it, a precedent; 
like little children, that have no other rule of good and evil 
manners but the correction they receive from their parents 
and masters; save that children are constant to their rule, 






OF MAN 389 

whereas men are not so; because, grown strong and stub 
born, they appeal from custom to reason, and from reason 
to custom, as it serves their turn; receding from custom 
when their interest requires it, and setting themselves 
against reason as oft as reason is against them; which is 
the cause that the doctrine of right and wrong is perpetually 
disputed, both by the pen and the sword; whereas the doc 
trine of lines and figures is not so, because men care not in 
that subject what be truth, as a thing that crosses no man s 
ambition, profit, or lust. For I doubt not but, if it had been 
a thing contrary to any man s right of dominion, or to the 
interest of men that have dominion, that the three angles of 
a triangle should be equal to two angles of a square/ that 
doctrine should have been, if not disputed, yet by the burning 
of all books of geometry, suppressed, as far as he whom it 
concerned was able. 

Ignorance of remote causes disposeth men to attribute all 
events to the causes immediate and instrumental, for these 
are all the causes they perceive. And hence it comes to 
pass that in all places men that are grieved with payments 
to the public, discharge their anger upon the publicans, that 
is to say farmers, collectors, and other officers of the public 
revenue, and adhere to such as find fault with the public 
government; and thereby, when they have engaged them 
selves beyond hope of justification, fall also upon the su 
preme authority, for fear of punishment or shame of re 
ceiving pardon. 

Ignorance of natural causes disposeth a man to credulity, 
so as to believe many times impossibilities; for such know 
nothing to the contrary but that they may be true, being 
unable to detect the impossibility. And credulity, because 
men like to be hearkened unto in company, disposeth them 
to lying, so that ignorance itself without malice is able to 
make a man both to believe lies and tell them, and sometimes 
also to invent them. 

Anxiety for the future time disposeth men to inquire into 
the causes of things ; because the knowledge of them maketh 
men the better able to order the present to their best 
advantage. 

Curiosity, or love of the knowledge of causes, draws a 



390 



THOMAS HOBBES 



man from the consideration of the effect to seek the cause, 
and, again, the cause of that cause ; till of necessity he must 
come to this thought at last that there is some cause whereof 
there is no former cause, but is eternal ; which is it men 
call God. So that it is impossible to make any profound in 
quiry into natural causes without being inclined thereby to 
believe there is one God eternal; though they cannot have 
any idea of Him in their mind answerable to His nature. 
For as a man that is born blind, hearing men talk of warm 
ing themselves by the fire and being brought to warm him 
self by the same, may easily conceive and assure himself, 
there is somewhat there, which men call l fire and is the 
cause of the heat he feels, but cannot imagine what it is like, 
nor have an idea of it in his mind such as they have that 
see it, so also by the visible things of this world, and their 
admirable order, a man may conceive there is a cause of 
them, which men call God, and yet not have an idea or image 
of Him in his mind. 

And they that make little or no inquiry into the natural 
causes of things, yet, from the fear that proceeds from the 
ignorance itself of what it is that hath the power to do them 
much good or harm, are inclined to suppose and feign unto 
themselves several kinds of powers invisible, and to stand 
in awe of their own imaginations, and in time of distress to 
invoke them, as also in the time of an expected good suc 
cess to give them thanks, making the creatures of their own 
fancy their gods. By which means it hath come to pass 
that, from the innumerable variety of fancy, men have 
created in the world innumerable sorts of gods. And this 
fear of things invisible is the natural seed of that which 
every one in himself calleth religion, and in them that wor 
ship or fear that power otherwise than they do, superstition. 

And this seed of religion, having been observed by many, 
some of those that have observed it have been inclined there 
by to nourish, dress, and form it into laws; and to add to 
it of their own invention any opinion of the causes of future 
events by which they thought they should be best able to 
govern others, and make unto themselves the greatest use 
of their powers. 



OF MAN 391 

CHAPTER XII 
OF RELIGION 

SEEING there are no signs nor fruit of religion* but in 
man only, there is no cause to doubt but that the seed of 
religion is also only in man ; and consisteth in some pe 
culiar quality or at least in some eminent degree thereof not 
to be found in other living creatures. 

And, first, it is peculiar to the nature of man to be in 
quisitive into the causes of the events they see, some more, 
some less ; but all men so much as to be curious in the search 
of the causes of their own good and evil fortune. 

Secondly, upon the sight of anything that hath a beginning, 
to think also it had a cause which determined the same to 
begin, then when it did, rather than sooner or later. 

Thirdly, whereas there is no other felicity of beasts but the 
enjoying of their quotidian food, ease, and lusts, as having 
little or no foresight of the time to come, for want of ob 
servation and memory of the order, consequence, and de 
pendence of the things they see, man observeth how one 
event hath been produced by another, and remembereth in 
them antecedence and consequence; and, when he cannot 
assure himself of the true causes of things (for the causes 
of good and evil fortune for the most part are invisible), he 
supposes causes of them, either such as his own fancy sug- 
gesteth, or trusteth the authority of other men, such as he 
thinks to be his friends and wiser than himself. 

The two first make anxiety. For, being assured that there 
be causes of all things that have arrived hitherto or shall 
arrive hereafter, it is impossible for a man, who continually 
endeavoureth tq secure himself against the evil he fears and 
procure the good he desireth, not to be in a perpetual solici 
tude of the time to come; so that every man, especially those 
that are over-provident, are in a state like to that of Prome 
theus. For as Prometheus, which interpreted is the prudent 
man/ was bound to the hill Caucasus, a place of large 
prospect, where an eagle feeding on his liver devoured in 
the day as much as was repaired in the night, so that man, 
which looks too far before him in the care of future time, 






392 THOMAS HOBBES 

hath his heart all the day long gnawed on by fear of death, 
poverty, or other calamity, and has no repose nor pause of 
his anxiety but in sleep. 

This perpetual fear, always accompanying mankind in the 
ignorance of causes, as it were in the dark, must needs have 
for object something. And therefore, when there is nothing 
to be seen, there is nothing to accuse, either of their good 
or evil fortune, but some power or agent invisible in 
which sense perhaps it was that some of the old poets said 
that the gods were at first created by human fear; which 
spoken of the gods, that is to say of ttte many gods of the 
Gentiles, is very true. But the acknowledging of one God, 
eternal, infinite, and omnipotent, may more easily be derived, 
from the desire men have to know the causes of natural 
bodies and their several virtues and operations, than from 
the fear of what was to befall them in time to come. For he 
that from any effect he seeth come to pass should reason 
to the next and immediate cause thereof, and from thence to 
the cause of that cause, and plunge himself profoundly in the 
pursuit of causes, shall at last come to this, that there must 
be, as even the heathen philosophers confessed, one first 
mover, that is, a first and an eternal cause of all things, 
which is that which men mean by the name of God, and all 
this without thought of their fortune; the solicitude whereof 
both inclines to fear and hinders them from the search of 
the causes of other things, and thereby gives occasion of 
feigning of as many gods as there be men that feign them. 

And, for the matter or substance of the invisible agents so 
fancied, they could not by natural cogitation fall upon any 
other conceit, but that it was the same with that of the soul 
of man; and that the soul of man was of the same substance 
with that which appeareth in a dream to one that sleepeth, 
or in a looking-glass to one that is awake; which, men not 
knowing that such apparitions are nothing else but creatures 
of the fancy, think to be real and external substances, and 
therefore call them ghosts ; as the Latins called them imagines 
and umbras, and thought them spirits, that is thin aerial 
bodies, and those invisible agents which they feared, to be like 
them, save that they appear and vanish when they please. 
But the opinion that such spirits were incorporeal, or im- 






OF MAX 393 

material, could never enter into the mind of any man by 
nature, because, though men may put together words of con 
tradictory signification, as spirit and * incorporeal/ yet they 
can never have the imagination of anything answering to 
them; and therefore men that by their own meditation srrive 
to the acknowledgment of one infinite, omnipotent, and 
eternal God chose rather to confess He is incomprehensible 
and above their understanding than to define His nature by 
spirit incorporeal/ and then confess their definition to be 
unintelligible; or, if they give Him such a title, it is not 
dogmatically with intention to make the divine nature 
understood, but piously/ to honour Him with attributes of 
significations as remote as they can from the grossness of 
bodies visible. 

Then for the way by which they think these invisible agents 
wrought their effects, that is to say, what immediate causes 
they used in bringing things to pass, men that know not what 
it is that we call causing/ that is almost all men, have no 
other rule to guess by but by observing and remembering 
what they have seen to precede the like effect at some other 
time or times before, without seeing between the antecedent 
and subsequent event any dependence or connection at all; 
and therefore from the like things past they expect the like 
things to come, and hope for good or evil luck, supersti- 
tiously, from things that have no part at all in the causing of 
it: as the Athenians did for their war at Lepanto, demand 
another Phormio ; the Pompeian faction for their war in 
Africa, another Scipio ; and others have done in divers other 
occasions since. In like manner they attribute their fortune 
to a stander-by, to a lucky or unlucky place, to words spoken, 
especially if the name God be amongst them, as charming and 
conjuring, the liturgy of witches; inasmuch as to believe they 
have power to turn a stone into bread, bread into a man, or 
anything into anything. 

Thirdly, for the worship which naturally men exhibit to 
powers invisible, it can be no other but such expressions of 
their reverence, as they would use towards men ; gifts, peti 
tions, thanks, submission of body, considerate addresses, 
sober behaviour, premeditated words, swearing, that 
suring one another of their promises by invoking them. Be- 



394 THOMAS HOBBES 

yond that, reason suggesteth nothing, but leaves them either 
to rest there, or, for further ceremonies, to rely on those 
they believe to be wiser than themselves. 

Lastly, concerning how these invisible powers declare to 
men the things which shall hereafter come to pass, especially 
concerning their good or evil fortune in general or good or 
ill success in any particular undertaking, men are naturally at 
a stand, save that, using to conjecture of the time to come 
by the time past, they are very apt not only to take casual 
things, after one or two encounters, for prognostics of the 
like encounter ever after, but also to believe the like prog 
nostics from other men of whom they have once conceived 
a good opinion. 

And, in these four things, opinion of ghosts, ignorance of 
second causes, devotion towards what men fear, and taking 
of things casual for prognostics, consisteth the natural seed 
of religion/ which, by reason of the different fancies, judg 
ments, and passions of several men, hath grown up into 
ceremonies so different that those which are used by one man 
are for the most part ridiculous to another. 

For these seeds have received culture from two sorts of 
men. One sort have been they that have nourished and or 
dered them according to their own invention. The other 
have done it by God s commandment and direction ; but both 
sorts have done it with a purpose to make those men that 
relied on them the more apt to obedience, laws, peace, charity, 
and civil society. So that the religion of the former sort is 
a part of human politics, and teacheth part of the duty which 
earthly kings require of their subjects. And the religion of 
the latter sort is divine politics, and containeth precepts to 
those that have yielded themselves subjects in the kingdom 
of God. Of the former sort were all the founders of com 
monwealths and the lawgivers of the Gentiles; of the latter 
sort, were Abraham, Moses, and our blessed Saviour, by 
whom have been derived unto us the laws of the kingdom of 
God. 

And, for that part of religion which consisteth in opinions 
concerning the nature of powers invisible, there is almost 
nothing that has a name that has not been esteemed amongst 
the Gentiles, in one place or another, a god or devil, or by 






OF MAN 39$ 

their poets feigned to be inanimated, inhabited, or possessed, 
by some spirit or other. 

The unformed matter of the world was a god by the name 
of Chaos. 

The heaven, the ocean, the planets, the fire, the earth, the 
winds, were so many gods. 

Men, women, a bird, a crocodile, a calf, a dog, a snake, an 
onion, a leek, were deified. Besides that, they filled almost 
all places with spirits called demons : the plains with Pan 
and Panises or Satyrs, the woods with Fauns and Nymphs, 
the sea with Tritons and other Nymphs, every river and 
fountain with a ghost of his name and with Nymphs, every 
house with its Lares or familiars, every man with his 
Genius/ hell with ghosts and spiritual officers, as Charon, 
Cerberus, and the Furies, and in the night-time, all places 
with larvae/ lemures/ ghosts of men deceased and a whole 
kingdom of fairies and bugbears. They have also ascribed 
divinity, and built temples to mere accidents and qualities, 
such as are time, night, day, peace, concord, love, contention, 
virtue, honour, health, rust, fever, and the like ; which when 
they prayed for or against they prayed to, as if there were 
ghosts of those names hanging over their heads, and letting 
fall or withholding that good or evil for or against which 
they prayed. They invoked also their own wit by the name 
of Muses, their own ignorance by the name of Fortune, their 
own lust by the name of Cupid, their own rage by the name 
of Furies, their own privy members by the name of Priapus ; 
and attributed their pollutions to Incubi and Succubae : inso 
much as there was nothing which a poet could introduce as 
a person in his poem which they did not make either a god 
or a devil/ 

The same authors of the religion of the Gentiles, observing 
the second ground for religion, which is men s ignorance of 
causes, and thereby their aptness to attribute their fortune 
to causes on which there was no dependence at all apparent, 
took occasion to obtrude on their ignorance, instead of second 
causes, a kind of second and ministerial gods, ascribing the 
cause of fecundity to Venus, the cause of arts to Apollo, 
of subtlety and craft to Mercury, of tempests and storms to 
^Eolus, and of other effects to other gods; insomuch as there 



396 THOMAS HOBBES 

was amongst the heathen almost as great variety of gods as 
of business. 

And to the worship which naturally men conceived fit to 
be used towards their gods, namely, oblations, prayers, thanks, 
and the rest formerly named, the same legislators of the 
Gentiles have added their images, both in picture and sculp 
ture, that the more ignorant sort, that is to say the most part 
or generality of the people, thinking the gods for whose rep 
resentation they were made were really included and as it 
were housed within them, might so much the more stand in 
fear of them; and endowed them with lands, and houses, and 
officers, and revenues, set apart from all other human uses, 
that is consecrated and made holy to those their idols, as 
caverns, groves, woods, mountains, and whole islands; and 
have attributed to them not only the shapes, some of men, 
some of beasts, some of monsters, but also the faculties and 
passions of men and beasts, as sense, speech, sex, lust, 
generation ; and this not only by mixing one with another to 
propagate the kind of gods, but also by mixing with men and 
women to beget mongrel gods, and but inmates of heaven, 
as Bacchus, Hercules, and others; besides anger, revenge, 
and other passions, of living creatures, and the actions pro 
ceeding from them, as fraud, theft, adultery, sodomy, and 
any vice that may be taken for an effect of power or a cause 
of pleasure ; and all such vices as amongst men are taken to 
be against law rather than against honour. 

Lastly, to the prognostics of time to come, which are 
naturally but conjectures upon experience of time past, and 
supernaturally, divine revelation, the same authors of the 
religion of the Gentiles, partly upon pretended experience 
partly upon pretended revelation, have added innumerable 
other superstitious ways of divination, and made men believe 
they should find their fortunes, sometimes in the ambiguous 
or senseless answers of the priests at Delphi, Delos, Ammon, 
and other famous oracles, which answers were made am 
biguous by design, to own the event both ways, or absurd, 
by the intoxicating vapour of the place, which is very fre 
quent in sulphurous caverns: sometimes in the leaves of the 
Sibyls, of whose prophecies, like those perhaps of Nostra 
damus (for the fragments now extant seem to be the inven- 



OF MAN 397 

tion of later times), there were some books in reputation in 
the time of the Roman Republic ; sometimes in the insignifi 
cant speeches of madmen supposed to be possessed with a 
divine spirit, which possession they called enthusiasm, and 
these kinds of foretelling events were accounted theomancy, 
or prophecy; sometimes in the aspect of the stars at their 
nativity, which was called horoscopy and esteemed a part of 
judiciary astrology ; sometimes in their own hopes and fears, 
called thumomancy, or presage; sometimes in the prediction 
of witches, that pretended conference with the dead, which 
is called necromancy, conjuring, and witchcraft, and is but 
juggling and confederate knavery; sometimes in the casual 
flight or feeding of birds, called augury; sometimes in the 
entrails of a sacrificed beast, which was aruspicina ; some 
times in dreams ; sometimes in croaking of ravens or chatter 
ing of birds ; sometimes in the lineaments of the face, which 
was called metoposcopy; or by palmistry in the lines of the 
hand ; in casual words, called omina ; sometimes in mon 
sters or unusual accidents, as eclipses, comets, rare meteors, 
earthquakes, inundations, uncouth births, and the like, which 
they called portenta and ostenta/ because they thought 
them to portend or foreshow some great calamity to come; 
sometimes in mere lottery, as cross and pile, counting holes 
in a sieve, dipping of verses in Homer and Virgil; and in 
numerable other such vain conceits. So easy are men to be 
drawn to believe anything from such men as have gotten 
credit with them and can with gentleness and dexterity take 
hold of their fear and ignorance. 

And therefore the first founders and legislators of com 
monwealths among the Gentiles, whose ends were only to 
keep the people in obedience and peace, have in all places 
taken care, first to imprint in their minds a belief that those 
precepts which they gave concerning religion might not be 
thought to proceed from their own device but from the 
dictates of some god or other spirit, or else that they them 
selves were of a higher nature than mere mortals, that i 
laws might the more easily be received: so Numa Pompilius 
pretended to receive the ceremonies he instituted amongst 
the Romans from the nymph Egeria; and the first 
founder of the kingdom of Peru pretended himself and his 



398 THOMAS HOBBES 

wife to be the children of the Sun, and Mahomet, to set up 
his new religion, pretended to have conferences with the 
Holy Ghost in form of a dove. Secondly-, they have had a 
care to make it believed that the same things were displeas 
ing to the gods which were forbidden by the laws. Thirdly, 
to prescribe ceremonies, supplications, sacrifices, and festi 
vals, by which they were to believe the anger of the gods 
might be appeased, and that ill success in war, great con 
tagions of sickness, earthquakes, and each man s private 
misery, came from the anger of the gods, and their anger 
from the neglect of their worship or the forgetting or mis 
taking some point of the ceremonies required. And, though 
amongst the ancient Romans men were not forbidden to 
deny that which in the poets is written of the pains and 
pleasures after this life, which divers of great authority and 
gravity in that state have in their harangues openly derided, 
yet that belief was always more cherished than the contrary. 

And by these and such other institutions they obtained in 
order to their end, which was the peace of the common 
wealth, that the common people in their misfortunes, laying 
the fault on neglect or error in their ceremonies or on their 
own disobedience to the laws, were the less apt to mutiny 
against their governors, and, being entertained with the pomp 
and pastime of festivals and public games made in honour 
of the gods, needed nothing else but bread to keep them 
from discontent, murmuring, and commotion against the 
state. And therefore the Romans, that had conquered the 
greatest part of the then known world, made no scruple of 
tolerating any religion whatsoever in the city of Rome itself, 
unless it had something in it that could not consist with their 
civil government ; nor do we read that any religion was there 
forbidden but that of the Jews, who, being the peculiar king 
dom of God, thought it unlawful to acknowledge subjection 
to any mortal king or state whatsoever. And thus you see 
how the religion of the Gentiles was part of their policy. 

But where God Himself by supernatural revelation planted 
religion, there He also made to Himself a peculiar kingdom, 
and gave laws not only of behaviour towards Himself but 
also towards one another; and thereby in the kingdom of 
God the policy and laws civil are a part of religion; and 



OF MAN 



399 



therefore the distinction of temporal and spiritual domination 
hath there no place. It is true that God is king of all the 
earth, yet may He be king of a peculiar and chosen nation. 
For there is no more incongruity therein than that he that 
hath the general command of the whole army should have 
withal a peculiar regiment or company of his own. God is 
king of all the earth by His power, but of His chosen people 
He is king by covenant. But to speak more largely of the 
kingdom of God, both by nature and covenant, I have in the 
following discourse assigned another place. 

From the propagation of religion it is not hard to under 
stand the causes of the resolution of the same into its first 
seeds or principles, which are only an opinion of a deity and 
powers invisible and supernatural that can never be so 
abolished out of human nature but that new religions may 
again be made to spring out of them, by the culture of such 
men as for such purpose are in reputation. 

For, seeing all formed religion is founded at first upon 
the faith which a multitude hath in some one person whom 
they believe not only to be a wise man, and to labour to pro 
cure their happiness, but also to be a holy man, to whom God 
Himself vouchsafeth to declare His will supernaturally, it 
followeth necessarily, when they that have the government 
of religion shall come to have either the wisdom of those 
men, their sincerity, or their love suspected, or when they 
shall be unable to show any probable token of divine revela 
tion, that the religion which they desire to uphold must be 
suspected likewise, and, without the fear of the civil sword, 
contradicted and rejected. 

That which taketh away the reputation of wisdom, in h 
that formeth a religion or addeth to it when it is already 
formed, is the enjoining of a belief of contradictories, for 
both parts of a contradiction cannot possibly be true; and 
therefore to enjoin the belief of them is an argument 
ignorance, which detects the author in that, and discredi 
him in all things else he shall propound as from rev< 
supernatural; which revelation a man may indeed have 
many things above but of nothing against natural rea: 

That which taketh away the reputation of sincerity i 
doing or saying of such things as appear to be signs that 



400 THOMAS HOBB 

what they require other men to believe is not believed by 
themselves, all which doings or sayings are therefore called 
scandalous, because they be stumbling-blocks that make men 
to fall in the way of religion, as injustice, cruelty, profane- 
ness, avarice, and luxury. For who can believe that he that 
doth ordinarily such actions as proceed from any of these 
roots believeth there is any such invisible power to be feared, 
as he afrrighteth other men withal for lesser faults? 

That which taketh away the reputation of love is the being 
detected of private ends, as when the belief they require of 
others conduceth or seemeth to conduce to the acquiring of 
dominion, riches, dignity, or secure pleasure to themselves 
only or specially. For that which men reap benefit by to 
themselves they are thought to do for their own sakes, and 
not for love of others. 

Lastly, the testimony that men can render of divine calling 
can be no other than the operation of miracles, or true 
prophecy, which also is a miracle, or extraordinary felicity. 
And, therefore, to those points of religion which have been 
received from them that did such miracles, those that are 
added by such as approve not their calling by some miracle 
obtain no greater belief than what the custom and laws of the 
places in which they be educated have wrought into them. 
For, as in natural things, men of judgment require natural 
signs and arguments, so in supernatural things they require 
signs supernatural, which are miracles, before they consent 
inwardly and from their hearts. 

All which causes of the weakening of men s faith do mani 
festly appear in the examples following. First, we have the 
example of the children of Israel, who when Moses, that had 
approved his calling to them by miracles and by the happy 
conduct of them out of Egypt was absent but forty days, 
revolted from the worship of the true God, recommended 
to them by him, and setting up (Exod. xxxii, i, 2) a golden 
calf for their god relapsed into the idolatry of the Egyptians, 
from whom they had been so lately delivered. And again, 
after Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and that generation which had 
seen the great works of God in Israel (Judges ii, n) were 
dead, another generation arose and served Baal. So that, 
miracles failing, faith also failed. 



OF MAN 401 



Again, when the sons of Samuel (i Sam. viii, 3), being 
constituted by their father judges in Bersabee, received 
bribes, and judged unjustly, the people of Israel refused any 
more to have God to be their king in other manner than He 
was king of other people, and therefore cried out to Samuel 
to choose them a king after the manner of the nations. So 
that, justice failing, faith also failed; insomuch as they de 
posed their God from reigning over them. 

And whereas in the planting of Christian religion the 
oracles ceased in all parts of the Roman empire, and the num 
ber of Christians, increased wonderfully every day and in 
every place by the preaching of the Apostles and Evangelists, 
a great part of that success may reasonably be attributed to 
the contempt into which the priests of the Gentiles of that 
time had brought themselves by their uncleanness, avarice, 
and juggling between princes. Also the religion of the 
Church of Rome was partly for the same cause abolished in 
England and many other parts of Christendom, insomuch as 
the failing of virtue in the pastors maketh faith fail in the 
people ; and partly from bringing of the philosophy and doc 
trine of Aristotle into religion by the schoolmen, from 
whence there arose so many contradictions and absurdities 
as brought the clergy into a reputation both of ignorance 
and of fraudulent intention, and inclined people to revolt 
from them, either against the will of their own princes, as 
in France and Holland, or with their will, as in England. 

Lastly, amongst the points by the Church of Rome declared 
necessary for salvation, there be so many manifestly to the 
advantage of the Pope and of his spiritual subjects residir 
in the territories of other Christian princes that, were i 
for the mutual emulation of those princes, they might witl 
out war or trouble exclude all foreign authority as easily 
as it had been excluded in England. For who is there 
does not see to whose benefit it conduceth to have it b 
that a king hath not his authority from Christ unle: 
bishop crown him? That a king, if he be a priest, cannot 
marry? That whether a prince be born in lawful man 
or not must be judged by authority from Rome? 
jects may be freed from their allegiance, if by the Court c 
Rome the king be judged an heretic? That a king, as Chil- 



402 THOMAS HOBBES 

peric of France, may be deposed by a pope, as Pope Zachary, 
for no cause, and his kingdom given to one of his subjects? 
That the clergy and regulars, in what country soever, shall 
be exempt from the jurisdiction of their king in cases crimi 
nal? Or who does not see to whose profit redound the fees 
of private masses and vales of purgatory, with other signs 
of private interest enough to mortify the most lively faith, 
if, as I said, the civil magistrate and custom did not more 
sustain it than any opinion they have of the sanctity, wis 
dom, or probity of their teachers? So that I may attribute 
all the changes of religion in the world to one and the same 
cause, and that is, unpleasing priests; and those not only 
amongst Catholics but even in that Church that hath pre 
sumed most of reformation. 



CHAPTER XIII 

OF THE NATURAL CONDITION OF MANKIND AS CONCERNING 
THEIR FELICITY AND MISERY 

NATURE hath made men so equal in the faculties of the 
body and mind, as that, though there be found one man 
sometimes manifestly stronger in body or of quicker mind 
than another, yet when all is reckoned together the dif 
ference between man and man is not so considerable as 
that one man can thereupon claim to himself any benefit to 
which another may not pretend as well as he. For, as to the 
strength of body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the 
strongest, either by secret machination or by confederacy 
with others that are in the same danger with himself. 

And, as to the faculties of the mind, setting aside the arts 
grounded upon words and especially that skill of proceeding 
upon general and infallible rules called science, which very 
few have and but in few things, as being not a native faculty 
born with us, nor attained, as prudence, while we look after 
somewhat else, I find yet a greater equality amongst men 
than that of strength. For prudence is but experience, which 
equal time equally bestows on all men in those things they 
equally apply themselves unto. That which may perhaps 
make such equality incredible is but a vain conceit of one s 






OF MAN 403 



own wisdom, which almost all men think they have in a 
greater degree than the vulgar, that is, than all men but 
themselves, and a few others whom by fame or for concur 
ring with themselves they approve. For such is the nature 
of men that, howsoever they may acknowledge many others 
to be more witty or more eloquent or more learned, yet they 
will hardly believe there be many so wise as themselves, for 
they see their own wit at hand and other men s at a distance. 
But this proveth rather that men are in that point ^ equal 
than unequal. For there is not ordinarily a greater sign of 
the equal distribution of anything than that every man is 
contented with his share. 

From this equality of ability ariseth equality of hope 1 
the attaining of our ends. And therefore, if any two men 
desire the same thing which nevertheless they cam 
enjoy, they become enemies; and, in the way to thei; 
which is principally their own conservation and 
their delectation only, endeavour to destroy or subdue 
another. And from hence it comes to pass that, where 
invader hath no more to fear than another man s 
power, if one plant, sow, build, or possess, a convenient s 
others may probably be expected to come prepared wit! 
forces united to dispossess and deprive him not only c 
fruit of his labour but also of his life or liberty. Anc 
invader again is in the like danger of another. 

And from this diffidence of one another there i; 
for any man to secure himself so reasonable as anticipation, 
that is, by force or wiles to master the persons of all 
he can so long till he see no other power great enoug* 
endanger him; and this is no more than his own conservat 
required and is generally allowed. Also, because ther 
some that, taking pleasure in contemplating theii 
in the acts of conquest, which they pursue farther than thei 
security requires if others, that otherwise would be glad to 
be at ease within the modest bounds, should not by invasion 
increase their power, they would not be able long time by 
standing only on their defence, to subsist. And by c 
sequence, such augmentation of dominion over , 
necessary to a man s conservation, it ought t 
him. 



404 THOMAS HOBBES 

Again, men have no pleasure, but on the contrary a great 
deal of grief, in keeping company where there is no power 
able to overawe them all. For every man looketh that his 
companion should value him at the same rate he sets upon 
himself, and, upon all signs of contempt or undervaluing, 
naturally endeavours as far as he dares (which amongst them 
that have no common power to keep them in quiet, is far 
enough to make them destroy each other) to extort a greater 
value from his contemners by damage, and from others by 
the example. 

So that in ..thfi. nature ..oJLmajj we find three principal causes 
/ of quarrel. First, competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly, 
glory. 

Th.e, .first maketh man invade for gain; the second, for 
safety; and the third, for reputation. The first use violence, 
to make themselves masters of other men s persons, wives, 
/ children, and cattle; the second, to defend them; the third, 
Jorjtrifles, as a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any 
other sign of undervalue, either direct in their persons or 
by reflection in their kindred, their friends, their nation, their 
profession, or their name. 

Hereby it is manifest that, during the time men live with 
out a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in 
that condition which is called war, and such a war as is of 
every man against every man. For war consisteth not in 
battle only or the act of fighting, but in a tract of time 
wherein the will to contend by battle is sufficiently known, 
and therefore the notion of time is to be considered in the 
nature of war, as it is in the nature of weather. For as the 
nature of foul weather lieth not in a shower or two of rain 
but in an inclination thereto of many days together, so the 
nature of war consisteth not in actual fighting but in the 
known disposition thereto during all the time there is no 
assurance to the contrary. All other time is peace/ 

Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war 
where every man is enemy to every man, the same is con 
sequent to the time wherein men live without other security 
than what their own strength and their own invention shall 
furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for 
industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain, and con- 



OF MAN 405 

sequently no culture of the earth, no navigation nor use of 
the commodities that may be imported by sea, no commodious 
building, no instruments of moving and removing such things 
as require much force, no knowledge of the face of the earth ; 
no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and, which 
is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, 
and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. 

It may seem strange to some man that has not well 
weighed these things that Nature should thus dissociate and 
render men apt to invade and destroy one another; and he 
may therefore, not trusting to this inference made from the 
passions, desire perhaps to have the same confirmed by ex 
perience. Let him therefore consider with himself, when 
taking a journey, he arms himself and seeks to go well ac 
companied; when going to sleep, he locks his doors; when 
even in his house, he locks his chests ; and this when he knows 
there be laws and public officers armed to revenge all injuries 
shall be done him; what opinion he has of his fellow-subjects, 
when he rides armed; of his fellow-citizens, when he locks 
his doors; and of his children and servants, when he locks 
his chests. Does he not there as much accuse mankind by 
his actions as I do by my words? But neither of us accuse 
man s nature in it. The desires and other passions of man 
are in themselves no sin. No more are the actions that pro 
ceed from those passions, till they know a law that forbids 
them ; which, till laws be made, they cannot know, nor can 
any law be made till they have agreed upon the person that 
shall make it. 

It may peradventure be thought there was never such a 
time nor condition of war as this; and I believe it was never 
generally so over all the world, but there are many places 
where they live so now. For the savage people in many 
places of America, except the government of small families 
the concord whereof dependeth on natural lust, have no 
government at all, and live at this day in that brutish manner 
as I said before. Howsoever, it may be perceived what 
manner of life there would be where there were no common 
power to fear, by the manner of life which men that have 
formerly lived under a peaceful government use to degener 
ate into, in a civil war. 



406 THOMAS HOBBES 

But, though there had never been any time wherein par 
ticular men were in a condition of war one against another, 
yet in all times kings and persons of sovereign authority, 
because of their independency, are in continual jealousies 
and in the state and posture of gladiators, having their 
weapons pointing, and their eyes fixed on one another, that is, 
their forts, garrisons, and guns, upon the frontiers of their 
kingdoms, and continual spies upon their neighbours: which 
is a posture of war. But because they uphold thereby the 
industry of their subjects, there does not follow from it that 
misery which accompanies the liberty of particular men. 

To this war of every man against every man this also is 
consequent, that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right 
and wrong, justice and injustice, have there no place. Where 
there is no common power, there is no law; where no law, 
no injustice. Force_and.Jraud are in war the two cardinal 
virtues, Justice and injustice are none of the faculties 
neither of the body nor mind. If they were, they might be in 
a man that were alone in the world, as well as his senses and 
passions. They are qualities that relate to men in society, 
not in solitude. It is consequent also to the same condition 
that there be no propriety, no dominion, no mine and 
1 thine distinct, but only that to be every man s that lie 
can get, and for so long as he can keep it. And thus much 
for the ill condition which man by mere nature is actually 
placed in, though with a possibility to come out of it, con 
sisting partly in the passions, partly in his reason. 

The passions that incline men to peace are fear of death, 
desire of such things as are necessary to commodious living, 
and a hope by their industry to obtain them. And reason 
suggesteth convenient articles of peace, upon which men may 
be drawn to agreement. These articles are they which 
otherwise are called the Laws of Nature, whereof I shall 
speak more particularly in the two following chapters. 



OF MAN 407 



CHAPTER XIV 

OF THE FIRST AND SECOND NATURAL LAWS, AND OF 
CONTRACTS 

THE right of Nature/ which writers commonly call jus 
naturaleisthe liberty each man hath to use his own power 
as he will himself for the preservation of his own nature 
that is to say, of his own life; and consequently of doing 
anything which in his own judgment and reason he shall 
conceive to be the aptest means thereunto. 

By liberty is understood, according to the proper sig 
nification of the word, the absence of external impediments- 
which impediments may oft take away part of a man s 
power to do what he would, but cannot hinder him from using 
the power left him according as his judgment and reason 
shall dictate to him. 

A law of Nature/ lex naturalis, is a precept or general 
rule found out by reason by which a man is forbidden to do 
that which is destructive of his life or taketh away the means 
of preserving the same, and to omit that by which he 
thinketh it may be best preserved. For, though they that 
speak of this subject use to confound jus and lex, right 
and Maw/ yet they ought to be distinguished; because 
Bright consisted! in liberty to do or to forbear, whereas 
law determineth and bindeth to one of them; so that law 
and right differ as much as obligation and liberty; which in 
one and the same matter are inconsistent. 
f And because the condition of man, as hath been declared 
in the precedent chapter, is a condition of war of every one 
against every one, in which case every one is governed by \ 
his own reason, and there is nothing he can make use of 
that may^not be a help unto him in preserving his life against 
his enemies, it followeth that in such a condition every man 
has a right to everything, even to one another s body. And 
therefore, as long as this natural right of every man to every 
thing endureth, there can be no security to any man, how 
strong or wise soever he be, of living out the time which 
Nature ordinarily alloweth men to live. And consequently 
it is a precept or general rule of reason that every man 



408 THOMAS HOBBES 

ought to endeavour peace as far as he has hope of obtaining 
it, and, when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek and use 
all helps and advantages of war. The first branch of which 
rule containeth the first and fundamental law of Nature, 
which is, to seek peace, and follow it/ The second, the 
sum of ttye right of Nature, which is, by all means we can, 
to defend ourselves. 

From this fundamental law of Nature, by which men are 
commanded to endeavour peace, is derived this second law, 
that a man be willing, when others are so too, as far- forth 
as for peace and defence of himself he shall think it neces 
sary, to lay down this right to all things, and be contented 
with so much liberty against other men as he would allow 
other men against himself. For as long as every man hold- 
eth this right of doing anything he liketh, so long are all 
men in the condition of war. But if other men will not lay 
down their right as well as he, then there is no reason for 
any one to divest himself of his; for that were to expose 
himself to prey, which no man is bound to, rather than to 
dispose himself to peace. This is that law of the Gospel: 
whatsoever you require that others should do to you, that 
do ye to them. And that law of all men, quod tibi fieri non 
vis, alteri ne feceris. 

To * lay down a man s right to anything is to divest 
himself of the liberty, of hindering another of the benefit 
of his own right to the same. For he that renounceth or 
passeth away his right giveth not to any other man a right 
which he had not before, because there is nothing to which 
every man had not right by Nature ; but only standeth out 
of his way that he may enjoy his own original right without 
hindrance from him, not without hindrance from another. 
So that the effect which redoundeth to one man, by another 
man s defect of right, is but so much diminution of impedi 
ments to the use of his own right original. 

Right is laid aside either by simply renouncing it, or by 
transferring it to another. By simply renouncing when 
he cares not to whom the benefit thereof redoundeth. By 
transferring, when he intendeth the benefit thereof to some 
certain person or persons. And, when a man hath in either 
manner abandoned or granted away his right, then is he said 



OF MAN 409 



to be obliged or bound not to hinder those to whom 
such right is granted or abandoned from the benefit of it; 
and that he ought, and it is his * duty/ not to make void 
that voluntary act of his own; and that such hindrance is 
injustice and injury as being sine jure, the right being 
before renounced or transferred. So that injury or in 
justice, in the controversies of the world, is somewhat like 
to that which in the disputations of scholars is called ab 
surdity. For, as it is there called an absurdity to con 
tradict what one maintained in the beginning, so in the 
world it is called injustice and injury voluntarily to undo 
that from the beginning he had voluntarily done. The way 
by which a man either simply renounceth or transferreth 
his right is a declaration or signification, by some voluntary 
and sufficient sign or signs, that he doth so renounce or 
transfer, or hath so renounced or transferred, the same, to 
him that accepteth it. And these signs are either words 
only or actions only, or, as it happeneth most often, both 
words and actions. And the same are the bonds by which 
men are bound and obliged : bonds that have their strength 
not from their own nature, for nothing is more easily broken 
than a man s word, but from fear of some evil consequence 
upon the rupture. 

Whensoever a man transferreth his right or renounc 
it, it is either in consideration of some right reciprocally 
transferred to himself, or for some other good he hopeth for 
thereby. For it is a voluntary act ; and of the voluntary act 
of every man the object is some good to himself. Anc 
therefore there be some rights which no man can be unde 
stood by any words or other signs to have abandoned 
transferred. As first a man cannot lay down the right 
resisting them that assault him by force to take away 1 
life because he cannot be understood to aim thereby at 
good to himself. The same may be said of wounds, 
chains, and imprisonment, both because there is no 
consequent to such patience, as there is to the gttaoeof 
suffering another to be wounded or imprisoned as 
because a man cannot tell when he seeth men proceed against 
him by violence whether they intend his death 
lastly the motive and end for which this renouncing an. 



410 THOMAS HOBBES 

transferring of right is introduced is nothing else but the 
security of a man s person in his life and in the means of 
so preserving life as not to be weary of it. And therefore, 
if a man by words or other signs seem to despoil himself 
of the end for which those signs were intended, he is not 
to be understood as if he meant it or that it was his will, 
but that he was ignorant of how such words and actions 
were to be interpreted. 

The mutual transferring of right is that which men call 
contract/ 

There is difference between transferring of right to the 
thing and transferring or tradition, that is delivery of the 
thing itself. For the thing may be delivered together with 
the translation of the right, as in buying and selling with 
ready money, or exchange of goods or lands, and it may 
be delivered some time after. 

Again, one of the contractors may deliver the thing con 
tracted for on his part, and leave the other to perform his 
part at some determinate time after, and in the meantime 
be trusted ; and then the contract on his part is called pact/ 
or covenant ; or both parts may contract now to perform 
hereafter; in which cases he that is to perform in time to 
come, being trusted, his performance is called * keeping of 
promise/ or faith, and the failing of performance, if it be 
voluntary, violation of faith/ 

When the transferring of right is not mutual, but one of 
the parties transferreth in hope to gain thereby the friend 
ship or service from another or from his friends, or in hope 
to gain the reputation of charity or magnanimity, or to 
deliver his mind from the pain of compassion, or in hope 
of reward in heaven, this is not contract but gift/ * free 
gift/ grace/ which words signify one and the same thing. 

Signs of contract are either express or * by inference/ 
Express are words spoken with understanding of what they 
signify, and such words are either of the time present or 
past/ as I give/ * I grant/ I have given/ I have granted/ 
I will that this be yours ; or of the future, as I will give/ 
I will grant/ which words of the future are called promise/ 

Signs by inference are sometimes the consequence of 






OP MAN 411 

words, sometimes the consequence of silence, sometimes the 
consequence of actions, sometimes the consequence of for 
bearing an action; and generally a sign by inference of any 
contract is whatsoever sufficiently argues the will of the 
contractor. 

Words alone, if they be of the time to come and contain 
a bare promise, are an insufficient sign of a free gift, and 
therefore not obligatory. For if they be of the time to 
come, as to-morrow I will give/ they are a sign I have 
not given yet, and consequently that my right is not trans 
ferred, but remaineth till I transfer it by some other act. 
But if the words be of the time present or past, as I have 
given, or do give to be delivered to-morrow/ then is my 
to-morrow s right given away to-day, and that by the virtue 
of the words, though there were no other argument of my 
will. And there is a great difference in the signification of 
these words volo hoc tuum esse eras and eras dabo, that is, 
between I will that this be thine to-morrow/ and I will 
give it thee to-morrow/ for the word I will/ in the former 
manner of speech, signifies an act of the will present, but in 
the latter it signifies a promise of an act of the will to come; 
and therefore the former words, being of the present, 
transfer a future right; the latter, that be of the future, 
transfer nothing. But if there be other signs of the will to 
transfer a right besides words, then, though the gift be 
free, yet may the right be understood to pass by words of 
the future; as, if a man propound a prize to him that comes 
first to the end of a race, the gift is free; and, though 
the words be of the future, yet the right passeth; for if 
he would not have his words so be understood, he should 
not have let them run. 

In contracts the right passeth not only where the words 
are of the time present or past, but also where they are 
of the future: because all contract is mutual translation or 
change of right, and therefore he that promiseth only be 
cause he hath already received the benefit for which he 
promiseth is to be understood as if he intended the right 
should pass, for, unless he had been content to have his 
words so understood, the other would not have performed 
his part first. And for that cause, in buying and selling 



412 THOMAS HOBBES 

and other acts of contracts, a promise is equivalent to a 
covenant, and therefore obligatory. 

He that performeth first in the case of a contract is said 
to merit that which he is to receive by the performance 
of the other, and he hath it as due/ Also when a prize 
is propounded to many which is to be given to him only 
that winneth, or money is thrown amongst many to be 
enjoyed by them that catch it, though this be a free gift, 
yet so to win or so to catch is to merit/ and to have it as 
due/ For the right is transferred in the propounding of 
the prize and in throwing down the money, though it^ be 
not determined to whom but by the event of the contention. 
But there is between these two sorts of merit this difference, 
that in contract I merit by virtue of my own power and the 
contractor s need, but in this case of free gift I am enabled 
to merit only by the benignity of the giver: in contract I 
merit at the contractor s hand that he should depart with 
his right; in this case of gift I merit not that the giver 
should part with his right, but that, when he has parted 
with it, it should be mine rather than another s. And this 
I think to be the meaning of that distinction of the schools 
between meritum congrui and meritum condigni. For God 
Almighty, having promised Paradise to those men hood 
winked with carnal desires that can walk through this world 
according to the precepts and limits prescribed by Him, they 
say he that shall so walk shall merit Paradise ex congruo. 
But because no man can demand a right to it by his own 
righteousness or any other power in himself, but by the 
free grace of God only, they say, no man can merit Paradise 
ex condigno. This, I say, I think is the meaning of that 
distinction; but, because disputers do not agree upon the 
signification of their own terms of art longer than it serves 
their turn, I will not affirm anything of their meaning^: only 
this I say when a gift is given indefinitely as a prize to 
be contended for, he that winneth meriteth, and may claim 
the prize as due. 

If a covenant be made wherein neither of the parties 
perform presently but trust one another, in the condition of 
mere nature, which is a condition of war of every man 
against every man, upon any reasonable suspicion, it is void ; 



9 



OF MAN 413 

but, if there be a common power set over them both with 
right and force sufficient to compel performance, it is not 
void. For he that performeth first has no assurance the 
other will perform after, because the bonds of words are 
too weak to bridle men s ambition, avarice, anger, and other 
passions, without the fear of some coercive power, which in 
the condition of mere nature, where all men are equal and 
judges of the justness of their own fears, cannot possibly 
be supposed. And therefore he which performeth first does 
but betray himself to his enemy, contrary to the right, he 
can never abandon, of defending his life and means of 
living. 

But in a civil estate, where there is a power set up to 
constrain those that would otherwise violate their faith, 
that fear is no more reasonable, and for that cause he 
which by the covenant is to perform first is obliged so to do. 
The cause of fear, which maketh such a covenant invalid, 
must be always something arising after the covenant made, 
as some new fact or other sign of the will not to perform; 
else it cannot make the covenant void. For that which 
could not hinder a man from promising ought not to be 
admitted as a hindrance of performing. 

He that transferreth any right transferreth the means 
of enjoying it as far as lieth in his power. As he that selleth 
land is understood to transfer the herbage and whatsoever 
grows upon it; nor can he that sells a mill turn away the 
stream that drives it. And they that give to a man the right 
of government in sovereignty are understood to give him 
the right of levying money to maintain soldiers, and of ap 
pointing magistrates for the administration of justice. 

To make covenants with brute beasts is impossible, be 
cause, not understanding our speech, they understand not 
nor accept of any translation of right; nor can translate any 
right to another ; and without mutual acceptation, there is no 
covenant. 

To make covenant with God is impossible, but by media 
tion of such as God speaketh to, either by revelation super 
natural or by His lieutenants that govern under Him and in 
His name; for otherwise we know not whether our cove 
nants be accepted or not. And therefore they that vow any- 



414 THOMAS HOBBES 

thing contrary to any law of Nature vow in vain, as being 
a thing unjust to pay such a vow. And, if it be a thing com 
manded by the law of Nature, it is not the vow but the law 
that binds them. 

The matter or subject of a covenant is always something 
that falleth under deliberation, for to covenant is an act of 
the will, that is to say an act, and the last act of delibera 
tion, and is therefore always understood to be something to 
come, and which is judged possible for him that covenanteth 
to perform. 

And therefore to promise that which is known to be im 
possible is no covenant. But, if that prove impossible after 
wards which before was thought possible, the covenant is 
valid and bindeth, though not to the thing itself, yet to the 
value, or, if that also IDC impossible, to the unfeigned en 
deavour of performing as much as is possible, for to more 
no man can be obliged. 

Men are freed of their covenants two ways: by perform 
ing or being forgiven. For performance is the natural 
end of obligation, and forgiveness the restitution of liberty, 
as being a retransf erring of that right in which the obliga 
tion consisted. 

Covenants entered into by fear, in the condition of mere 
nature, are obligatory. For example, if I covenant to pay a 
ransom or service for my life to an enemy, I am bound by 
it, for it is a contract wherein one receiveth the benefit of 
life; the other is to receive money or service for it; and 
consequently where no other law, as in the condition of 
mere nature, forbiddeth the performance, the covenant is 
valid. Therefore prisoners of war, if trusted with the pay 
ment of their ransom, are obliged to pay it; and, if a weaker 
prince make a disadvantageous peace with a stronger for 
fear, he is bound to keep it, unless, as hath been said before, 
there ariseth some new and just cause of fear to renew the 
war. And even in commonwealths, if I be forced to redeem 
myself from a thief by promising him money, I am bound 
to pay it, till the civil law discharge me. For whatsoever I 
may lawfully do without obligation, the same I may lawfully 
covenant to do through fear, and what I lawfully covenant 
I cannot lawfully break. 



OF MAN 415 

A former covenant makes void a later. For a man that 
hath passed away his right to one man to-day hath it not 
to pass to-morrow to another, and therefore the later promise 
passeth no right, but is null. 

A covenant not to defend myself from force by force is 
always void. For, as I have shown before, no man can 
transfer or lay down his right to save himself from death, 
wounds, and imprisonment, the avoiding whereof is the only 
end of laying down any right; and therefore the promise 
of not resisting force, in no covenant transferred any right, 
nor is obliging. For, though a man may covenant thus, 
unless I do so or so, kill me, he cannot covenant thus, 
unless I do so or so, I will not resist you when you come 
to kill me. For man by nature chooseth the lesser evil, 
which is danger of death in resisting, rather than the 
greater, which is certain and present death in not resisting. 
And this is granted to be true by all men, in that they lead 
criminals to execution and prison with armed men, not 
withstanding that such criminals have consented to the law 
by which they are condemned. 

A covenant to accuse oneself, without assurance of par- 

on, is likewise invalid. For in the condition of nature, 

;here every man is judge, there is no place for accusation; 
and in the civil state the accusation is followed with punish 
ment, which, being force, a man is not obliged not to resist. 
The same is also true of the accusation of those by whose 
condemnation a man falls into misery, as of a father, wife, 
or benefactor. For the testimony of such an accuser, i: 
be not willingly given, is presumed to be corrupted by na 
ture, and therefore not to be received; and where a mans 
testimony is not to be credited he is not bound to give it. 
Also accusations upon torture are not to be reputed as t< 
timonies. For torture is to be used but as a means of con 
jecture and light, in the further examination and searcl 
truth; and what is in that case confessed tendeth to t 
of him that is tortured, not to the informing of the tor- 
turers, and therefore ought not to have the credit . 

sufficient testimony, for, whether he deliver himself by true 
or false accusation, he dees it by the right of preserving his 

own life. 



Y 

416 THOMAS HOBBES 

The force of words being, as I have formerly noted, too 
weak to hold men to the performance of their covenants, 
there are in man s nature but two imaginable helps to 
strengthen it. And those are either a fear of the conse 
quence of breaking their word, or a glory or pride in ap 
pearing not to need to break it. This latter is a generosity 
too rarely found to be presumed on, especially in the pur 
suers of wealth, command, or sensual pleasure, which are 
the greatest part of mankind. The passion to be reckoned 
upon is fear, whereof there be two very general objects: 
one, the power of spirits invisible, the other, the power of 
those men they shall therein offend. Of these two, though 
the former be the greater power, yet the fear of the latter is 
commonly the greater fear. The fear of the former is in 
every man his own religion, which hath place in the nature 
of man before civil society. The latter hath not so, at least 
not place enough to keep men to their promises; because in 
the condition of mere nature the inequality of power is not 
discerned but by the event of battle. So that before the 
time of civil society, or in the interruption thereof by war, 
there is nothing can strengthen a covenant of peace agreed 
on against the temptations of avarice, ambition, lust, or 
other strong desire, but the fear of that invisible power 
which they every one worship as God and fear as a re 
venger of their perfidy. All therefore that can be done 
between two men not subject to civil power is to put one 
another to swear by the God he f eareth, which swearing/ 
or oath/ is a form of speech, added to a promise ; by 
which he that promiseth signifieth that, unless he perform 
he renounceth the mercy of his God or calleth to Him for 
vengeance on himself/ Such was the heathen form, Let 
Jupiter kill me else, as I kill this beast. So is our form, 
* I shall do thus, and thus, so help me God/ And this, with 
the rites and ceremonies which every one useth in his own 
religion, that the fear of breaking faith might be the 
greater. 

By this it appears that an oath taken according to any 
other form or rite than his that sweareth is in vain, and no 
oath; and that there is no swearing by anything which the 
swearer thinks not God. For though men have sometimes 



OP MAN 4!7 

used to swear by their kings, for fear or flattery, yet they 
would have it thereby understood they attributed to them 
divine honour. And that swearing unnecessarily by God is 
but profaning of His name; and swearing by other things, 
as men do in common discourse, is not swearing but an im 
pious custom, gotten by too much vehemence of talking. 

It appears also that the oath adds nothing to the obligation. 
For a covenant, if lawful, binds in the sight of God with 
out the oath as much as with it : if unlawful, bindeth not at 
all, though it be confirmed with an oath. 



CHAPTER XV 
OF OTHER LAWS OF NATURE 

FROM that law of Nature by which we are obliged to 
transfer to another such rights as, being retained, hinder 
the peace of mankind, there followeth a third, which is 
this, that men perform their covenants made ; without 
which covenants are in vain, and but empty words: and 
the right of all men to all things remaining, we are still in 
the condition of war. 

And in this law of Nature consisteth the fountain and 
original of justice/ For, where no covenant hath pre 
ceded, there hath no right been transferred, and every 
man has right to everything; and consequently, no action 
can be unjust. But when a covenant is made, then to 
break it is unjust ; and the definition of injustice is 
no other than the not performance of covenant." And 
whatsoever is not unjust is just/ 

But because covenants of mutual trust, where there is 
a fear of not performance on either part, as hath been said 
in the former chapter, are invalid, though the original of 
i justice be the making of covenants, yet injustice actually 
[there can be none, till the cause of such fear be taken away, 
j which, while men are in the natural condition of war, can 
not be done. Therefore, before the names of just and 
unjust can have place, there must be some coercive power 
to compel men equally to the performance of their cove- 
jnants, by the terror of some punishment greater than the 
.N) HC xxxiv 



418 THOMAS HOBBES 

benefit they expect by the breach of their covenant; and 
to make good that propriety which by mutual contract 
men acquire in recompense of the universal right they 
abandon; and such power there is none before the erec 
tion of a commonwealth. And this is also to be gathered 
out of the ordinary definition of justice in the schools; 
for they say that justice is the constant will of giving to 
every man his own/ And therefore where there is no 
own there is no propriety, there is no injustice; and 
where there is no coercive power erected, that is, where 
there is no commonwealth, there is no propriety, all^ men 
having right to all things: therefore, where there is no 
commonwealth, there nothing is unjust So that the nature 
of justice consisteth in keeping of valid covenants; but the 
validity of covenants begins not but with the constitution 
of a civil power sufficient to compel men to keep them; 
and then it is also that propriety begins. 

The fool hath said in his heart there is no such thing as 
justice, and sometimes also with his tongue, seriously 
alleging that every man s conservation and contentment, 
being committed to his own care, there could be no reason 
why every man might not do what he thought conduced 
thereunto; and therefore also to make or not make, keep 
or not keep, covenants was not against reason when it 
conduced to one s benefit. He does not therein deny 
that there be covenants, and that they are sometimes 
broken, sometimes kept, and that such breach of them 
may be called injustice, and the observance of them justice; 
but he questioneth whether injustice, taking away the 
fear of God, for the same fool hath said in his heart there 
is no God, may not sometimes stand with that reason :. 
which dictateth to every man his own good; and particu 
larly then when it conduceth to such a benefit as shall put 
a man in a condition to neglect not 1 only the dispraise and 
revilings, but also the power, of other men. The kingdom 
of God is gotten by violence; but what if it could be gotten 
by unjust violence? Were it against reaspn so to get it, 
when it is impossible to receive hurt by it? And, if it be 
not against reason, it is not against justice, or else justice 
is not to be approved for good. From such reasoning as 






OF MAN 419 

this, successful wickedness hath obtained the name of 
virtue, and some that in all other things have disallowed 
the violation of faith, yet have allowed it when it is for 
the getting of a kingdom. And the heathen that believed 
that Saturn was deposed by his son Jupiter believed never 
theless the same Jupiter to be the avenger of injustice, 
somewhat like to a piece of law in Coke s Commentaries 
on Littleton, where he says, if the right heir of the crown 
be attainted of treason, yet the crown shall descend to him, 
and eo instante the attainder be void; from which instances 
a man will be very prone to infer that, when the heir ap 
parent of a kingdom shall kill him that is in possession, 
though his father, you may call it injustice or by what 
other name you will, yet it can never be against reason, 
seeing all the voluntary actions of men tend to the benefit 
of themselves; and those actions are most reasonable that 
conduce most to their ends. This specious reasoning is 
nevertheless false. 

For the question is not of promises mutual, where there 
is no security of performance on either side, as when there 
is no civil power erected over the parties promising, for 
such promises are no covenants, but either where one of 
the parties has performed already, or where there is a 
power to make him perform, there is the question whether 
it be against reason, that is against the benefit of the 
other to perform or not. And I say it is not against reason. 
For the manifestation whereof we are to consider, first, 
that when a man doth a thing which notwithstanding any 
thing can be foreseen and reckoned on tendeth to his own 
destruction, howsoever some accident which he could not 
expect, arriving may turn it to his benefit, yet such events 
do not make it reasonably or wisely done. Secondly, that, 
in a condition of war, wherein every man to every man, 
for want of a common power to keep them all in awe, is 
an enemy, there is no man who can hope by his own 
strength or wit to defend himself from destruction without 
the help of confederates; where every one expects the same 
defence by the confederation that any one else does; and 
therefore he which declares he thinks it reason to deceive 
those that help him can in reason expect no other means 



420 THOMAS HOBBES 

of safety than what can be had from his own single power. 
He therefore that breaketh his covenant, and consequently 
declareth that he thinks he may with reason do so, cannot 
be received into any society that unite themselves for peace 
and defence but by the error of them that receive him; 
nor, when he is received, be retained in it without seeing 
the danger of their error; which errors a man can 
not reasonably reckon upon as the means of his security; 
and therefore, if he be left or cast out of society, he 
perisheth; and if he live in society, it is by the errors of 
other men which he could not foresee nor reckon upon, 
and consequently against the reason of his preservation; 
and so, as all men that contribute not to his destruction, 
forbear him only out of ignorance of what is good for 
themselves. 

As for the instance of gaining the secure and perpetual 
felicity of heaven by any way, it is frivolous; there being 
but one way imaginable; and that is not breaking, but 
keeping of covenant. 

And, for the other instance of attaining sovereignty by 
rebellion, it is manifest that, though the event follow, yet, 
because it cannot reasonably be expected, but rather the 
contrary, and because by gaining it so, others are taught 
to gain the same in like manner, the attempt thereof is 
against reason. Justice therefore, that is to say keeping 
of covenant, is a rule of reason by which we are forbidden 
to do anything destructive to our life; and consequently 
a law of Nature. 

There be some that proceed further, and will not have 
the law of Nature to be those rules which conduce to the 
preservation of man s life on earth, but to the attaining 
of an eternal felicity after death; to which they think 
the breach of covenant may conduce; and consequently 
be just and reasonable; such are they that think it a 
work of merit to kill or depose or rebel against the sovereign 
power constituted over them by their own consent. But, 
because there is no natural knowledge of man s estate after 
death, much less of the reward that is then to be given to 
breach of faith, but only a belief grounded upon other 
men s saying that they know it supernaturally, or that they 



OF MAN 



421 



fcnow those that knew them, that knew others, that knew 
it supernaturally; breach of faith cannot be called a precept 
of reason or nature. 

Others that allow for a law of Nature the keeping of 
faith do nevertheless make exception of certain persons 
as heretics and such as use not to perform their covenant 
to others; and this also is against reason. For if any 
fault of a man be sufficient to discharge our covenant 
made, the same ought in reason to have been sufficient to 
have hindered the making of it. 

The names of just and unjust, when they are attributed 
to men, signify one thing; and when they are attributed 
to actions, another. When they are attributed to men, 
they signify conformity or inconformity of manners to 
reason. But, when they are attributed to actions, they 
signify the conformity or inconformity to reason, not of 
manners or manner of life but of particular actions. A 
just man, therefore, is he that taketh all the care he can 
that his actions may be all just, and an unjust man is he 
that neglecteth it. And such men are more often in our 
language styled by the names of righteous and unrighteous 
than just and unjust, though the meaning be the same. 
Therefore a righteous man does not lose that title by one 
or a few unjust actions that proceed from sudden passion 
or mistake of things or persons; nor does an unrighteous 
man lose his character for such actions as he does, or for 
bears to do, for fear, because his will is not framed by the 
justice but by the apparent benefit of what he is to do. That 
which gives to human actions the relish of justice is a 
certain nobleness or gallantness of courage, rarely found, 
by which a man scorns to be beholden for the contentment 
of his life to fraud or breach of promise. This justice of 
the manners is that which is meant where justice is called 
a virtue, and injustice a vice. 

But the justice of actions denominates men not just, 
guiltless ; and the injustice of the same, which is also 
called injury, gives them but the name of guilty/ 

Again, the injustice of manners is the disposition or 
aptitude to do injury, and is injustice before it proceeds 
to act, and without supposing any individual person in- 



422 THOMAS HOBBES 

jured. But the injustice of an action, that is to say injury, 
supposeth an individual person injured, namely him to 
whom the covenant was made; and therefore many times 
the injury is received by one man when the damage re- 
doundeth to another. As when the master commandeth 
his servant to give money to a stranger: if it be not done, 
the injury is done to the master, whom he had before 
covenanted to obey; but the damage redoundeth to the 
stranger, to whom he had no obligation, and therefore 
could not injure him. And so also in commonwealths. 
Private men may remit to one another their debts, but not 
robberies or other violences whereby they are endamaged, 
because the detaining of debt is an injury to themselves, 
but robbery and violence are injuries to the person of the 
commonwealth. 

Whatsoever is done to a man conformable to his own 
will signified to the doer is no injury to him. For, if he 
that doeth it hath not passed away his original right to 
do what he please by some antecedent covenant, there is 
no breach of covenant, and therefore no injury done him. 
And if he have, then his will to have it done being signified 
is a release of that covenant, and so again there is no 
injury done him. 

Justice of action is by writers divided into commu 
tative and distributive ; and the former they say con- 
sisteth in proportion arithmetical, the latter in proportion 
geometrical. Commutative, therefore, they place in the 
equality of value of the things contracted for; and dis 
tributive, in the distribution of equal benefit to men of equal 
merit. As if it were injustice to sell dearer than we buy, 
or to give more to a man than he merits. The value of all 
things contracted for is measured by the appetite of the 
contractors; and therefore the just value is that which they 
be contented to give. And merit, besides that which is by 
covenant, where the performance on one part meriteth the 
performance of the other part, and falls under justice com 
mutative not distributive, is not due by justice, but is 
rewarded of grace only. And therefore this distinction, 
in the sense wherein it useth to be expounded, is not right. 
To speak properly, commutative justice is the justice of a 



OF MAN 423 

contractor; that is, a performance of covenant in buying 
and selling, hiring and letting to hire, lending and borrow 
ing, exchanging, bartering, and other acts of contract. 

And distributive justice, the justice of an arbitrator; 
that is to say, the act of defining what is just. Wherein, 
being trusted by them that make him arbitrator, if he 
perform his trust he is said to distribute to every man his 
own; and this is indeed just distribution, and may be 
called, though improperly, distributive justice, but more 
properly equity, which also is a law of Nature, as shall be 
shown in due place. 

As justice dependeth on antecedent covenant, so does 
gratitude depend on antecedent grace, that is to say, 
antecedent free gift; and is the fourth law of Nature; 
which may be conceived in this form, that a man, which 
receiveth benefit from another of mere grace, endeavour 
that he which giveth it have no reasonable cause to repent 
him of his good will. For no man giveth but with inten 
tion of good to himself; because gift is voluntary; and 
of all voluntary acts the object is to every man his own 
good, of which, if men see they shall be frustrated, there 
will be no beginning of benevolence, or trust, nor conse 
quently of mutual help, nor of reconciliation of one man 
to another; and therefore they are to remain still in the 
condition of war/ which is contrary to the first and 
fundamental law of Nature, which commandeth men to 
seek peace/ The breach of this law is called ^ingrati 
tude/ and hath the same relation to grace that injustice 
hath to obligation by covenant. 

A fifth law of Nature, is complaisance/ that is to say, 
that every man strive to accommodate himself to the 
rest/ For the understanding whereof, we may consider 
that there is in men s aptness to society, a diversity of 
nature, rising from their diversity of affections, not unlike 
to that we see in stones brought together for building of 
an edifice. For as that stone which by the asperity and 
irregularity of figure takes more room from others than 
itself fills, and for the hardness cannot be easily made 
plain, and thereby hindereth the building, is by the buildci 
cast away as unprofitable and troublesome, so also a man 



424 THOMAS HOBBES 

that by asperity of nature will strive to retain those things 
which to himself are superfluous and to others necessary, 
and for the stubbornness of his passions cannot be cor 
rected, is to be left or cast out of society as cumbersome 
thereunto. For seeing every man, not only by right but 
also by necessity of nature, is supposed to endeavour all 
he can to obtain that which is necessary for his conversation, 
he that shall oppose himself against it for things superfluous 
is guilty of the war that thereupon is to follow; and there 
fore doth that which is contrary to the fundamental law of 
Nature, which commandeth to seek peace/ The observers 
of this law may be called sociable the Latins call them 
commodi; the contrary, stubborn/ insociable/ f reward/ 
intractable/ 

A sixth law of Nature is this, that, upon caution of the 
future time, a man ought to pardon the offences past of 
them that, repenting, desire it/ For pardon* is nothing 
but granting of peace, which, though granted to them 
that persevere in their hostility, be not peace but fear; 
yet not granted to them that give caution of the future 
time is sign of an aversion to peace, and therefore contrary 
to the law of Nature. 

A seventh is, that in revenges/ that is, retribution of 
evil for evil, men look not at the greatness of the evil 
past but the greatness of the good to follow/ Whereby 
we are forbidden to inflict punishment with any other 
design than for correction of the offender or direction of 
others. For this law is consequent to the next before it, 
that commandeth pardon, upon security of the future 
time. Besides, revenge, without respect to the example 
and profit to come, is a triumph or glorying in the hurt of 
another tending to no end; for the end is always some 
what to come; and glorying to no end is vain-glory and 
contrary to reason, and to hurt without reason tendeth to 
the introduction of war, which is against the law of Nature, 
and is commonly styled by the name of cruelty/ 

And because all signs of hatred or contempt provoke to 
fight, insomuch as most men choose rather to hazard their 
life than not to be revenged, we may in the eighth place, 
for a law of Nature, set down this precept, that no mail 






OF MAN 42$ 

by deed, word, countenance, or gesture, declare hatred or 
contempt of another. The breach of which law is com 
monly called contumely/ 

The question who is the better man has no place in the 
condition of mere nature; where, as has been shown 
before, all men are equal. The inequality that now is 
has been introduced by the laws civil. I know that 
Aristotle, in the first book of his Politics, for a foundation 
of his doctrine, maketh men by nature some more worthy 
to command, meaning the wiser sort, such as he thought 
himself to be for his philosophy, others to serve, meaning 
those that had strong bodies but were not philosophers as 
he; as if master and servant were not introduced by con 
sent of men but by difference of wit, which is not only 
against reason but also against experience. For there 
are very few so foolish that had not rather govern them 
selves than be governed by others; nor, when the wise 
in their own conceit contend by force with them who 
distrust their own wisdom, do they always, or often, or 
almost at any time, get the victory. If Nature therefore 
have made men equal, that equality is to be acknowl 
edged; or, if Nature have made men unequal, yet because 
men that think themselves equal will not enter into con 
ditions of peace but upon equal terms, such equality must 
be admitted. And therefore for the ninth law of Nature 
I put this, that every man acknowledge another for his 
equal by nature/ The breach of this precept is pride/ 

On this law dependeth another, that at the entrance 
into conditions of peace no man require to reserve to 
himself any right which he is not content should be re 
served to every one of the rest/ As it is necessary for all 
men that seek peace to lay down certain rights of nature, 
that is to say, not to have liberty to do all they list, so is 
it necessary for man s life to retain some, as right to 
govern their own bodies, enjoy air, water, motion, ways 
to go from place to place, and all things else without 
which a man cannot live or not live well. If in this case, 
at the making of peace, men require for themselves that 
which they would not have to be granted to others, they 
do contrary to the precedent law, that commandeth the 



426 THOMAS HOBBES 

acknowledgement of natural equality, and therefore also 
against the law of Nature. The observers of this law are 
those we call modest/ and the breakers arrogant men. 
The Greeks call the violation of this law xhovsZia, that is, 
a desire of more than their share. 

Also if a man be trusted to judge between man and man, 
it is a precept of the law of Nature that he deal equally be 
tween them/ For without that the controversies of men 
cannot be determined but by war. He therefore that is 
partial in judgment doth what in him lies to deter men from 
the use of judges and arbitrators, and consequently against 
the fundamental law of Nature, is the cause of war. 

The observance of this law, from the equal distribution 
to each man of that which in reason belongeth to him, is 
called equity/ and, as I have said before, distributive 
justice; the violation, acception of persons, xpoffcoKofy^ta. 

And from this followeth another law, that such things 
as cannot be divided be enjoyed in common, if it can be; 
and, if the quantity of the thing permit, without stint; 
otherwise proportionably to the number of them that have 
right/ For otherwise the distribution is unequal and con 
trary to equity. 

But some things there be that can neither be divided 
nor enjoyed in common. Then the law of Nature, which 
prescribeth equity, requireth that the entire right, or else 
making the use alternate, the first possession, be determined 
by lot/ For equal distribution is of the law of Nature, and 
other means of equal distribution cannot be imagined. 

Of lots there be two sorts, arbitrary/ and natural/ 
Arbitrary is that which is agreed on by the competitors; 
natural is either primogeniture/ which the Greeks call 
xtypovo/jLta, which signifies given by lot or first seizure/ 

And therefore those things which cannot be enjoyed in 
common nor divided ought to be adjudged to the first 
possessor; and in some cases to the first born, as acquired 
by lot. 

It is also a law of Nature that all men that mediate peace, 
be allowed safe conduct/ For the law that commandeth 
peace as the end, commandeth intercession as the means ; 
and to intercession the means is safe conduct. 



OF MAN 427 

And because, though men be never so willing to observe 
these laws, there may nevertheless arise questions concern 
ing a man s action ; first, whether it were done or not done ; 
secondly, if done, whether against the law or not against the 
law; the former whereof is called a question of fact/ the 
latter a question of right/ therefore, unless the parties to 
the question covenant mutually to stand to the sentence of 
another, they are as far from peace as ever. This other to 
whose sentence they submit is called an * arbitrator. And 
therefore it is of the law of Nature that they that are at 
controversy submit their right to the judgment of an 
arbitrator. 

And, seeing every man is presumed to do all things in 
order to his own benefit, no man is a fit arbitrator in his 
own cause, and if he were never so fit, yet, equity allowing to 
each party equal benefit, if one be admitted to be judge, the 
other is to be admitted also ; and so the controversy, that is, 
the cause of war, remains against the law of Nature. 

For the same reason no man in any cause ought to be 
received for arbitrator to whom greater profit, or honour, 
or pleasure, apparently ariseth out of the victory of one 
party than of the other; for he hath taken, though an un- 
unavoidable bribe, yet a bribe, and no man can be obliged 
to trust him. And thus also the controversy and the con 
dition of war remaineth, contrary to the law of Nature. 

And in a controversy of fact/ the judge, being to give 
no more credit to one than to the other if there be no 
other arguments, must give credit to a third, or to a third 
and fourth, or more ; for else the question is undecided and 
left to force, contrary to the law of Nature. 

These are the laws of Nature, dictating peace, for a means 
of the conservation of men in multitudes, and which only 
concern the doctrine of civil society. There be other things 
tending to the destruction of particular men, as drunkenness 
and all other parts of intemperance; which may therefore 
also be reckoned amongst those things which the law of 
Nature hath forbidden, but are not necessary to be men- 
tioned, nor are pertinent enough to this place. 

And though this may seem too subtle a deduction of 
laws of Nature to be taken notice of by all men, whereof 



428 THOMAS HOBBES 

the most part are too busy in getting food and the rest 
too negligent to understand, yet, to leave all men inex 
cusable, they have been contracted into one easy sum, 
intelligible even to the meanest capacity; and that is, 
Do not that to another which thou wouldst not have 
done to thyself; which showeth him that he has no more 
to do in learning the laws of Nature but when weighing the 
actions of other men with his own, they seem too heavy, to 
put them into the other part of the balance and his own into 
their place, that his own passions and self-love may add noth 
ing to the weight; and then there is none of these laws of 
Nature that will not appear unto him very reasonable. 

The laws of Nature oblige in foro interno, that is to say, 
they bintl to a desire they should take place; but in foro 
externo, that is, to the putting them in act, not always. 
For he that should be modest and tractable and perform 
all he promises, in such time and place where no man else 
should do so, should but make himself a prey to others 
and procure his own certain ruin, contrary to the ground 
of all laws of Nature, which tend to Nature s preservation. 
And, again, he that, having sufficient security that others 
shall observe the same laws towards him, observes them 
not himself, seeketh not peace but war, and consequently 
the destruction of his nature by violence. 

And whatsoever laws bind in foro interno may be broken, 
not only by a fact contrary to the law but also by a fact 
according to it, in case a man think it contrary. For, 
though his action in this case be according to the law, yet 
his purpose was against the law; which, where the obliga 
tion is in foro interno, is a breach. 

The laws of Nature are immutable and eternal; for 
injustice, ingratitude, arrogance, pride, iniquity, acception 
of persons, and the rest, can never be made lawful. For 
it can never be that war shall preserve life, and peace 
destroy it. 

The same laws, because they oblige only to a desire and 
endeavour I mean an unfeigned and constant endeavour 
are easy to be observed. For, in that they require nothing 
but endeavour, he that endeavoureth their performance 
fulfilleth them; and he that fulfilleth the law is just. 






OF MAN 429 

And the science of them is the true and only moral 
philosophy. For moral philosophy is nothing else but the 
science of what is good and evil in the conversation 
and society of mankind. * Good and evil are names 
that signify our appetites and aversions, which, in different 
tempers, customs, and doctrines of men, are different; 
and divers men differ not only in their judgment on the 
senses of what is pleasant and unpleasant to the taste, 
smell, hearing, touch, and sight, but also of what is com- 
formable or disagreeable to reason in the actions of com 
mon life. Nay, the same man in divers times differs from 
himself, and one time praiseth, that is calleth good, what 
another time he dispraiseth and calleth evil; from whence 
arise disputes, controversies, and at last war. And there 
fore, so long as a man is in the condition of mere nature, 
which is a condition of war, as private appetite is the 
measure of good and evil, and consequently all men agree 
on this, that peace is good, and therefore also the way or 
means of peace, which, as I have showed before, are 
* justice/ gratitude/ modesty/ equity/ mercy/ and the 
rest of the laws of Nature, are good; that is to say, 
moral virtues ; and their contrary vices/ evil. Now 
the science of virtue and vice is moral philosophy, and 
therefore the true doctrine of the laws of Nature is the 
true moral philosophy. But the writers of moral philosophy, 
though they acknowledge the same virtues and vices, yet, 
not seeing wherein consisted their goodness, nor that ^ they 
come to be praised as the means of peaceable, sociable, 
and comfortable living, place them in a mediocrity ^of 
passions; as if not the cause, but the degree of daring 
made fortitude; or not the cause, but the quantity, of a 
gift, made liberality. 

These dictates of reason men used to call by the name of 
laws, but improperly; for they are but conclusions or 
theorems concerning what conduceth to the conservation 
and defence of themselves; whereas law, properly, is the 
word of him that by right hath command over^ others.^ 
yet if we consider the same theorems, as delivered in t 
word of God, that by right commandeth all things, then arc 
they properly called laws. 



430 THOMAS HOBBES 

CHAPTER XVI 
OF PERSONS, AUTHORS, AND THINGS PERSONATED 

A PERSON is he whose words or actions are considered, 
either as his own or as representing the words or actions 
of another man, or of any other thing, to whom they are 
attributed, whether truly or by fiction. 

When they are considered as his own, then is he called a 
natural person ; and, when they are considered as repre 
senting the words and actions of another, then is he a 
feigned or artificial person/ 

The word person is Latin; instead whereof the Greeks 
have Kp6ffwxov, which signifies the face, as persona in Latin 
signifies the disguise or outward appearance of a man, 
counterfeited on the stage, and sometimes more particularly 
that part of it which disguiseth the face, as a mask or vizard, 
and from the stage hath been translated to any representer 
of speech and action, as well in tribunals as theatres. So 
that a person is the same that an actor is, both on the 
stage and in common conversation ; and to personate is to 
act/ or represent/ himself or another; and he that acteth 
another is said to bear his person, or act in his name, in 
which sense Cicero useth it where he says: Unus sustineo 
tres personas; mei, adversarii, et judicis: I bear three per 
sons: my own, my adversary s, and the judge s; and is called 
in diverse occasions, diversely : as a representer or repre 
sentative/ a lieutenant/ a vicar/ an attorney/ a deputy/ 
a procurator/ an actor/ and the like. 

Of persons artificial some have their words and actions 
owned by those whom they represent. And then the 
person is the actor/ and he that owneth his words and 
actions is the author/ in which case the actor acteth by 
authority. For that which in speaking of goods and posses 
sions is called an owner and in Latin dominus, in Greek 
xbpto?; speaking of actions is called author. And as the right 
of possession is called dominion, so the right of doing any 
action is called authority/ So that by authority is always 
understood a right of doing any act, and done by authority/ 
done by commission or licence from him whose right it is. 






OF MAN 431 

From hence it followeth that, when the actor maketh a 
covenant by authority, he bindeth thereby the author no 
less than if he had made it himself, and no less subjecteth 
him to all the consequences of the same. And therefore all 
that hath been said formerly (chap, xiv) of the nature of 
covenants between man and man in their natural capacity 
is true also when they are made by their actors, represen- 
ters, or procurators, that have authority from them, so far 
forth as is in their commission, but no further. 

And therefore he that maketh a covenant with the actor 
or representer, not knowing the authority he hath, doth it 
at his own peril. For no man is obliged by a covenant 
whereof he is not author, nor consequently by a covenant 
made against or beside the authority he gave. 

When the actor doth anything against the law of Nature 
by command of the author, if he be obliged by former cove 
nant to obey him, not he but the author breaketh the law 
of Nature; for, though the action be against the law of 
Nature, yet it is not his; but, contrarily, to refuse to do it, 
is against the law of Nature, that forbiddeth breach of 
covenant. 

And he that maketh a covenant with the author by medi 
ation of the actor, not knowing what authority he hath, 
but only takes his word, in case such authority be not made 
manifest unto him upon demand, is no longer obliged, for 
the covenant made with the author is not valid without his 
counter-assurance. But if he that so covenanteth knew 
beforehand he was to expect no other assurance than the 
actor s word, then is the covenant valid, because the actor 
in this case maketh himself the author. And therefore, as 
when the authority is evident, the covenant obligeth the 
author, not the actor, so, when the authority is feigned, it 
obligeth the actor only, there being no author but himself. 

There are few things that are incapable of being repre 
sented by fiction. Inanimate things, as a church, an hos 
pital, a bridge, may be personated by a rector, master, or 
overseer. But things inanimate cannot be authors, nor 
therefore give authority to their actors; yet the actors may 
have authority to procure their maintenance, given them 
by those that are owners or governors of those things. And 



432 THOMAS HOBBES 

therefore such things cannot be personated before there bs 
some state of civil government. 

Likewise children, fools, and madmen, that have no use 
of reason, may be personated by guardians or curators, but 
can be no authors, during that time, of any action done by 
them longer than, when they shall recover the use of reason, 
they shall judge the same reasonable. Yet during the folly 
he that hath right of governing them may give authority 
to the guardian. But this again has no place but in a state 
civil, because before such estate there is no dominion of 
persons. 

An idol, or mere figment of the brain, may be personated, 
as were the gods of the heathen, which, by such officers 
as the state appointed, were personated, and held posses 
sions and other goods and rights, which men from time 
to time dedicated and consecrated unto them. But idols 
cannot be authors, for an idol is nothing. The authority 
proceeded from the state; and therefore before introduc 
tion of civil government the gods of the heathen could not 
be personated. 

The true God may be personated. As He was, first, by 
Moses, who governed the Israelites, that were not his, but 
God s people, not in his own name, with hoc dicit Moses, 
but in God s name, with hoc dicit Dominus. Secondly, by 
the Son of man, His own Son, our Messed Saviour Jesus 
Christ, that came to reduce the Jews, and induce all nations 
into the kingdom of His Father, not as of Himself but as 
sent from His Father. And thirdly, by the Holy Ghost or 
Comforter, speaking and working in the Apostles, which 
Holy Ghost was a Comforter that came not of Himself, but 
was sent and proceeded from them both. 

A multitude of men are made one person when they 
are by one man or one person represented, so that it be 
done with the consent of every one of that multitude in 
particular. For it is the unity * of the representer, not the 
unity of the represented, that maketh the person one/ 
And it is the representer that beareth the person, and but 
one person ; and unity cannot otherwise be understood in 
multitude. 

And because the multitude naturally is not one but 






OF MAN 



433 



many, they cannot be understood for one, but many 
authors, of everything their representative saith or doth in 
their name, every man giving their common representer 
authority from himself in particular, and owning all the 
actions the representer doth, in case they give him author 
ity without stint; otherwise, when they limit him in what 
and how far he shall represent them, none of them owneth 
more than they gave him commission to act. 

And, if the representative consist of many men, the voice 
of the greater number must be considered as the voice of 
them all. For if the lesser number pronounce, for example 
in the affirmative, and the greater in the negative, there will 
be negatives more than enough to destroy the affirmatives; 
and thereby the excess of negatives, standing uncontra- 
dicted, are the only voice the representative hath. 

And a representative of even number, especially when the 
number is not great, whereby the contradictory voices are 
oftentimes equal, is therefore oftentimes mute and incapable 
of action. Yet in some cases contradictory voices equal in 
number may determine a question, as in condemning or 
absolving, equality of votes, even in that they condemn not, 
do absolve, but not on the contrary condemn in that they 
absolve not. For when a cause is heard, not to condemn 
is to absolve ; but, on the contrary, to say that not absolving 
is condemning is not true. The like it is in a deliberation 
of executing presently or deferring till another time; for 
when the voices are equal, the not decreeing execution is 
a decree of dilation. 

Or if the number be odd, as three or more, men or assem 
blies, whereof every one has by a negative voice authority 
to take away the effect of all the affirmative voices of the 
rest, this number is no representative; because, by the diver 
sity of opinions and interests of men, it becomes oftentimes, 
and in cases of the greatest consequence, a mute person and 
unapt, as for many things else, so for the government of a 
multitude, especially in time of war. 

Of authors there be two sorts. The first simply so called; 
which I have before defined to be him that owneth the action 
of another simply. The second is he that owneth an action 
or covenant of another conditionally, that is to say, he un- 



434 



OF MAN 



dertaketh to do it if the other doth it not at or before a 
certain time. And these authors conditional are generally 
called sureties/ in Latin, fidejussores, and sponsores, and 
particularly for debt, praedes; and for appearance before a 
judge or magistrate, vades. 



Planned and Designed 
at The Collier Press 
By William Patten 



PLEASE DO NOT REMOVE 
CARDS OR SLIPS FROM THIS POCKET 

UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO LIBRARY 



B French & English philosophers 

21 
F7